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Q. Is it wrong of companies to cut the price of their breastmilk substitutes?

A. (11 February 2005) Companies should stop profiteering from over-priced breastmilk substitutes, but should not use price reductions to promote their products.

Too often monitoring by Baby Milk Action and its partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds price promotions for breastmilk substitutes in retail outlets. This is a clear violation of Article 5.3 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. In addition Article 5.1 states: "There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code." Advertising price cuts violates the Code. It can be argued that feeding information to journalists to gain free publicity through reports in the media also violates this article.

The UK Law is narrower than the Code only prohibiting money-off promotions and advertising for infant formula (formula for use from birth). In the UK promotion is generally restricted to follow-on formula, though this still violates the Code. However, a surprising amount of illegal promotion of infant formula is also occurring in major supermarket and pharmacy chains, as can be seen in the monitoring report on the website Violations of the Code and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions in the UK and of the UK Law can be reported via this site.

Providing free and low-cost samples and supplies is also prohibited by the Code and Resolutions (for example WHA 47.5 states there should be "no donations of free or subsidized supplies of breastmilk substitutes and other products covered by the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in any part of the health care system.")

Making a long-term reduction in the price of breastmilk substitutes is another matter. These products are highly priced and companies make large profits out of them. In Italy successful legal action was taken against major baby food companies for forming a cartel to inflate the cost of breastmilk substitutes (see company profiles in Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2001). For mothers who have decided or been persuaded to artificially feed their infants the cost is great, so much so that it can impact on family poverty. These mothers will benefit if price reductions are long term. If they are short term and hiked a few weeks or months afterwards this could mean a mother who had carefully budgeted to buy formula suddenly finds it difficult to do so. In conditions of poverty the expense of formula can lead to it being over-diluted.

So baby food companies should stop profiteering from over-priced breastmilk substitutes, but should not use price reductions to promote their products.

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