on Child Rights urges UK to ban promotion of breastmilk substitutes
advocates in the UK, who have for decades been calling on the
UK Government to ban advertising and promotion of breastmilk substitutes
in line with UN international requirements, expressed delight
at the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Convention
on the Rights of the Child which were published on 4 October 2002.
The UN Committee's report welcomed the reduction of infant mortality
rates in the UK but commented on the relatively low rate of breastfeeding
[Note 1]. It specifically recommended that:
party takes all appropriate measures to...promote breastfeeding
and adopt the International
Code for Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes."
UK fails to act on the recommendations, when it appears before
the Committee again in 5 years time, it will have to explain why.
1990 when the Convention was adopted, all but two countries, USA
and Somalia, have signed up to it. The Committee meets three times
a year, reviewing the progress of nine countries at each session.
Poland, Argentina and Burkina Faso were also urged to do more
to promote breastfeeding. Poland was asked to encourage and educate
mothers on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for an infant's
first six months and continued breastfeeding for two years, as
recommended by WHO.
Since 1981, when the International Code was adopted, the UK has
publicly endorsed it and all the subsequent relevant Resolutions
passed at the World Health Assembly. But under pressure from the
baby food industry, it has failed to implement them at home [Note
2]. Despite the advice of 48 major health and consumer bodies
in the UK, the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations
adopted in 1995 failed to ban advertising and instead has allowed
the health care system to be used as a channel for millions of
pounds of commercial promotion each year.
The Labour Party (then in opposition) also opposed the Law saying:
"This House is alarmed at the decision taken recently by
health Ministers to put commercial interests before infant health
when it refused to ban the advertising of infant formula in the
United Kingdom." Despite growing evidence of the health
and economic costs of artificial feeding, no action has been taken
to change the Law and ban promotion [Note 3].
The International Code contains three fundamental principles:
- Its resolutions
are universal and apply to ALL countries.
- It covers ALL breastmilk
substitutes, not just infant formula
- Companies must comply
with the Code (and all its resolutions) in ALL countries, independently
of government action.
also unequivocal in its ban of promotion, both within the healthcare
system and outside it. Article 5 states: "There should
be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public
of products within the scope of this Code." While Article
6 states: "No facility of a health care system should
be used for the purpose of promoting infant formula or other products
within the scope of this Code." Because of the weaknesses
in the UK Law, the baby food industry has been able to increase
sales and the market is now estimated to be worth £370 million
each year [Note 5].
The CRC Committee also commented on privatisation, calling on
the UK to evaluate the impact of privatization of schools on the
right of children to education. Baby Milk Action, (the UK member
of the global network, the International
Baby Food Action Network) along with trade unions and others,
has been urging the UK Government to take steps to stop the commercialisation
of education services, since this can have an enormous impact
on children's understanding of what is and is not a healthy diet.
Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, says:
"International instruments such as the Code and the Convention
are critically important in the protection of health and sustainable
development. This is particularly true with globalisation and
the continued pressure to deregulate trade. We hope that at long
last the UK Government will respect its obligations and do the
right thing in the interests of British babies and their parents."
For more information contact: Baby Milk Action, 23 St Andrew's
St, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, 01223 464420,
Patti Rundall mob: 07786 523493
- While the UK breastfeeding
rate at birth is 69%, at 1 week it drops sharply to 55%, at
2 weeks to 42%, at 4 months to 28%, at 6 weeks to 21%, at 8
months 16%, and at 9 months only 13%. (ONS 2000).
- The International
Code was adopted in 1981 by the World Health Assembly - the
world's highest policy setting body - as a 'minimum requirement'
to be enacted 'in its entirety' in 'all countries.' 10 Resolutions
have been passed since which all have the same status and which
clarify and strengthen the original text.
- The UK Regulations
stem from a 1991 European Directive (91/321 EC) which allows
member states to implement the International Code and to ban
advertising without breaching Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome.
The preamble of the Directive states:"Whereas in an
effort to provide better protection for the health of infants,
the rules of composition, labelling and advertising laid down
in this Directive should be in conformity with the principles
and aims of the International Code."
- The cost savings
of breastfeeding to the NHS were outlined in the 1995 DH, Breastfeeding:
Good Practice Guidance to the NHS: "More mothers breastfeeding
would bring health gains to mothers and babies and savings for
the NHS in both the short and longer term
.the saving associated
with each one percentage point increase in breastfeeding in
the average health district is about £4,000 - about a
half a million pounds in England and Wales. If all babies were
breastfed this would be equivalent to almost £300,000
a year for the average district or £35 million for the
country as a whole."
- Two companies dominate
the UK artificial babymilk market: the US company Wyeth (which
owns the SMA brand with about 40% of the market) and the Dutch
company Numico (which owns the Milupa and Cow & Gate brands
with about 30% of the market). Other brands are owned by UK
supermarkets, the US companies Heinz, Mead Johnson and Abbott
Ross, and the German company Hipp. The Swiss food giant Nestlé,
launched a milk in August 2002 which has already generated criticism
from 11 health and consumer bodies.