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International campaign aims to save Philippines baby milk marketing law - and infant lives

Press release 9 November 2006 (jump to text).

Updated 10 October 2007, related media coverage and press releases:


Individuals and organisations around the world are signing a petition of solidarity and sending messages of support to politicians and health advocates in the Philippines as US business interests try to overturn new baby milk marketing regulations.

The international campaign was launched by Baby Milk Action at the request of ARUGAAN, the Philippines partner in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), shown right launching its national petition on 16 October.

IBFAN Europe, representing 58 groups in 35 countries across Europe has collectively endorsed the petition of solidarity (click here for other organisations endorsing the petition).

Philippines petition

Philippines petition

ARUGAAN launches its petition
in support of protecting infant health
on 16 October 2006 (details).
More photos of ARUGAAN campaigns

Baby Milk Action's Policy Director, Patti Rundall OBE, is in the Philippines to promote the international campaign (having travelled on from the Codex Alimentarius meeting in Thailand with Elisabeth Sterken of INFACT Canada).

They are pictured here on the NBN4 Morning programme on 8 November, one of many interviews they have given this week.

Today, 9 November, Patti has spoken at a meeting in Congress.

Patti on TV

Elisabeth Sterken (l), Director of INFACT Canada (which coordinates the North American Nestlé boycott) and Patti Rundall (centre) on Philippines breakfast television. Click for hi-res version for printing.
Photo credit: Baby Milk Action.

The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) where signed off by the Secretary of State for Health in May 2006, the culmination of 25 years of campaigning since the World Health Assembly introduced marketing requirements in 1981 (click here for chronology).

However, the Regulations were soon challenged in court by the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) representing three main US formula companies (Abbott Ross, Mead Johnson and Wyeth), Gerber (now owned by Swiss NOVARTIS, but possible transferring to Nestlé - see notes) and other international pharmaceutical giants.

The court refused to issue the requested temporary restraining order. However it reversed this decision 4 days after the President was contacted by the US Chamber of Commerce. In October IBFAN exposed with a leaked letter that the President of the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr Thomas Donohue, warned President Arroyo of “the risk to the reputation of the Philippines as a stable and viable destination for investment” if she did not “re-examine this regulatory decision”. Following media interest the letter is now widely available - click here.

Patti Rundall OBE, Baby Milk Action's Policy Director, speaking from the Philippines said:

"Despite giving interviews virtually non-stop since Tuesday very little has ended up in the print media in the Philippines so far. Speaking on live television and radio we can get our message out, but there is a real problem of advertisers putting pressure on newspapers. I'm really shocked that these companies that pretend to us they are socially responsible have the nerve to go into the Philippines where artifical feeding is dangerous and challenge the Department of Health regulations. The claims that the companies are using on their products are quite outrageous and misleading to parents and the new regulations are essential. We have helped to protect laws in the past and we call on people and the media around the world to act now."

Baby Milk Action supporters are writing to the companies as well as sending messages of support. The first to respond is Abbott. Despite being one of the companies opposing the regulations it is claiming publicly:

"We also are dedicated to the highest standards of manufacturing and  marketing - and to complying with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries where we do business.  This includes following the World Health Organization International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes as it is legislated and implemented locally."

The Philippines is amongst the 42 countries accounting for 90% of under-5 deaths. 82,000 children die each year before their 5th birthday. Improving breastfeeding rates is the single most effective action that can be taken to prevent these deaths, with the potential to save 1.3 million lives every year across the 42 countries (Ref: Black et al. Where and why are 10 million children dying every year? Lancet 2003;361:2226-34).

Amongst the 56 countries where National Demographic and Health Survey are available the Philippines ranks lowest for figures of children ever breastfed and only 16% are breastfed exclusively at 4-5 months. The World Health Assembly recommendation is exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, followed by continued breastfeeding to 2 years of age and beyond.

An article published in the Philippines Sunday Times on 5 November 2006 in response to the national campaign and a conference organised by the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation, it states:

"The bottom line figure provided by the WHO is even more staggering: 16,000 Filipino children die before their fifth birthday from inappropriate feeding practices. The number, according to Dr. Olivè [Jean Marc Olivè, WHO country representative], exceeded any humanitarian emergency which the Philippines has faced in the last 20 years.

The article continues:

"Blame it on the power of advertising. For years, television, radio and print commercials have led people to believe that infant formula can substitute breastmilk, even with the 'breast milk is still best for babies' disclaimer. They portray images of violin prodigies and future Einsteins at the threshold of a healthy, successful and full life. They are beautiful promises, indeed, but the statistics say otherwise.

"Unfortunately it is not only the general public that is victimized by the misconceptions on breastfeeding but health workers as well. Free milk samples and corporate giveaways look harmless to the naked eye but they weaken the development of a healthy child."

Nestlé is not involved in the legal challenge, but is lobbying behind the scenes for changes to the regulations and to weaken further proposed legislation below that required by the World Health Assembly Resolutions on the marketing of baby foods. It has been exposed giving gifts to health workers and sending staff into communities.

Footage of interviews conducted in the Philippines in 2003 is available on the German Panorama website (click the image to view online).

German Panorama TV programme 2003

For a flavour of some of the messages being sent to the Philippines from around the world see the Campaigns Coordinator's blog entry: 'Don't give in, keep fighting.'

Notes for editors

  1. The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) consists of over 200 groups in more than 100 countries. IBFAN groups work for the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions and monitor company practices against these. Nestlé is found to be the worst of the companies and so the target of an international consumer boycott.

  2. IBFAN's Breaking the Rules reports profile all companies involved in the attack on the law. It was reported today (9 November) that Gerber may be purchased by Nestlé from Novartis.

  3. Baby Milk Action is a not-for-profit organisation and the UK member of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). It is funded by membership fees, merchandise sales and donations, along with grants from development organisations and charitable trusts.

  4. The boycott of Nestlé focuses on Nescafé, its flagship product, but Baby Milk Action lists the brands from which Nestlé profits so boycott supporters can avoid them all. Guardian reported on 1 September 2005: "What do Nike, Coca Cola, McDonald's and Nestlé have in common? Apart from being among the world's most well-known brands, they happen to be the most boycotted brands on the planet. That finding came from this week's global GMIPoll, an online opinion poll that surveyed 15,500 consumers in 17 countries. Nestlé emerges as the most the most boycotted brand in the UK because of what respondents consider its "unethical use and promotion of formula feed for babies in third world countries."

  5. Nestlé won a global internet poll for the world's 'least responsible company' coinciding with the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2005. Nestlé received 29% of the votes. This was more than twice that of joint second Monsanto and Dow Chemicals (of Bhopal infamy), each on 14% ( click here for details ).

  6. For information on baby food marketing malpractice see the codewatch and boycott sections of this website. The Corporate Watch website has a detailed report on Nestlé.

  7. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed. See the Your Questions Answered section.

  8. Endorsements for the petition of solidarity have been received from 190 individuals and organisations from around the world including (update 13 November):

    • Australian Lactation Consultants Association
    • IBFAN Europe (representing 58 groups in 35 countries, including Baby Milk Action)
    • INFACT Canada (Coordinator of the North American Nestlé Boycott and member of IBFAN)
    • Rete Italiana Boicottaggio Nestle (Italian Nestlé Boycott Network)
    • The University Of Sheffield Union Of Students
    • KASAPI HELLAS - The Unity Organisation for Filipino Migrant Workers in Greece
    • Philippine Solidarity Group Netherlands
    • Citizens' Movement for the Waters of Minas Gerais, Brazil
  10. ARUGGAN has been conducting imaginative campaigns in defence of the new Regulations. See This begins: "More than a thousand breastfeeding mothers together with civic organizations unite to protect breastfeeding through a forum and a colorful public display of a thousand slogan umbrellas at the Risen Garden, Quezon City Hall. The slogans, written in English, Filipino and local dialects, embodied the voice and sentiments of the mothers in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision to temporarily suspend the implementation of the Executive Order 51 or the Philippine Milk Code. The code aims to protect mothers and infants through promoting breastfeeding and regulating advertisements of breastmilk substitutes."

Philippines umbrellas

Philippines umbrellas

Philippines umbrella slogans

Click for large versions. Photo credit: ARUGAAN (IBFAN Philippines), 2006.

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