Issue number 18: March 1996
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Table of Contents
Why sponsorship is harmful
When funds are limited and there is important work to be done the question of whether or not to accept sponsorship from baby food companies remains a difficult issue.
Many people accept sponsorship and only discover its problems when it is too late. When in 1989 Dr Jack Newman, a Canadian paediatrician, criticised the US baby milk company Wyeth, the company publicly challenged his right to do so on the basis that he had previously spoken at Wyeth sponsored conferences. Although Dr Newman had never received any money personally, he decided never to speak at such conferences again.
US and Gerber gang up on Guatemala
Pressure from the United States has forced Guatemala to weaken its previously strong domestic law on the marketing of baby milks. The United States threatened the country with a total ban on imports if it did not weaken its law to allow Gerber to sell baby foods which carry pictures of a baby.
J&J ready to pull out of India
Facing criminal charges over its discounts on bottles, Johnson & Johnson has written to UNICEF and to the consumer group, ACASH announcing that it will stop selling baby bottles in India by the Diwali festival in November.
The pressures of privatisation
The Malay Mail has reported that 60% of private clinics and 40% of private hospitals breached the new Malaysian code. The Breastfeeding Association of Malaysia stated that the violations were "tantamount to corruption and abuse of power."
Nestlé leaflets to new mothers, promoting a nutritional supplement called Mom, stress the problems of visiting government hospitals:
"there may be a long queue to see the doctor, so do bring along enough reading material to keep you occupied") and the benefits of private institutions "more "personalised" care".
The Malaysian experience with private hospitals is common. A US delegate to the World Health Assembly Executive Board in January 1996 commented that it would be impossible to implement the 1990 Innocenti Declaration on breastfeeding in the USA because the government could not dictate to private institutions.
Strong law for Pakistan?
The Government in Pakistan appears set to introduce a domestic law which will take strong action against the promotion of baby milks. The proposed law bans advertising of "any milk manufactured or marketed or promoted for the use of a child below the age of two years." This would cover follow-on milks which companies argue are not covered by the International Code.
Breastfeeding in the US
Breastfeeding advocates in the US are still waiting to see if the State Department will translate the International Code into domestic law. The United States endorsed the Code in 1994, having refused to do so for 13 years. Now, baby milk companies are arguing that the US has a unique distribution system and cannot be covered by the Code.
HA claims uncovered
In December 1995, an article exposing the faulty research carried out on so-called "hypoallergenic" milks was published in a scientific allergy journal, Hautnah Padiatrie in Germany. Since publication the article has been suppressed by the journal itself. Meanwhile, the German High Court has decided that in future all baby drinks must carry warnings about the dangers of drinking from baby bottles. The decision follows a series of successful law suits brought by parents against manufacturers after their children suffered tooth decay.
Hipp lies about UNICEF
The German baby food company Hipp made a public announcement in a magazine that it had donated 5,420 kilos of baby food as aid to UNICEF for its Bosnian campaign. UNICEF has written back to Hipp with astonishment asking them to correct the claim, given that the offer had never been accepted.
Scottish hospitals ban Bounty
Hospitals on Tayside have stopped distributing Bounty bags after the company refused to withdraw advertisements for baby milks. Maternity units in Perth, Dundee and Angus have ended a 35-year association with Bounty because they believe the ads can be harmful to breastfeeding. Scotland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe.
Argos changes ads
Argos will be withdrawing pictures of tins of infant formula from advertisements for bottle sterilisers in their catalogue. The move follows a complaint by Baby Milk Action member, Susan Sammons, who alerted her local trading standards department in Croydon.
Breastfeeding in public gets a boost
Local authorities are increasingly prepared to adopt policies to protect public breastfeeding. Uckfield Town Council, in Sussex, and the South Lakeland District Council, in Cumbria, have both passed pro-breastfeeding policies.
Advertising is not information
An argument often advanced by the baby milk industry is that advertising is necessary because it helps mothers to distinguish between the nutritional contents of different products. The WHO/UNICEF International Code says that information should be "scientific and factual", not emotive as in advertising.
Interview-based research involving bottle feeding mothers in Leeds has found that the choice of a particular brand of baby milk is not based on sound knowledge. The author reports:
"The women although claiming to be concerned about the nutritional content of the babymilks had a very poor knowledge in this area. Therefore, their decision to use a particular babymilk was not based on the nutritional contents of the baby milk." Generally, the women interviewed did not believe one brand was different from another and: "although they trust the leading baby milks, their trust is based on little substance. This fact, combined with the womenÍs confusion and lack of knowledge regarding baby milks, suggests that the women are not making informed and genuine decisions... the fact that they trusted the safety of the baby milks took away their responsibility to investigate the nutritional content of the baby milks. This may be compared to the way in which in this consumerised, "processed food" society the onus has been removed from the individual to investigate for themselves the quality of foodstuffs."
Many of the women were reluctant to admit to being influenced in their choice by advertising although it was an important factor. One mother changed from Cow & Gate to Milupa after seeing an advertisement. A number of women were aware of brand names on other products (such as follow-on milks and baby foods) and believed this influenced their choice of infant formula. Several commented that although sometimes they could not recall the name of a particular babymilk, they could describe in detail the brand logo, both the format and the colours used.
This is an important finding as companies have attempted to downplay the influence of logos on information materials, arguing that they do not advertising baby milk. Although the study was not directly concerned with the choice between breastfeeding and bottle feeding, it noted that "the womenÍs confidence in their ability to breastfeed had perhaps been lessened by the knowledge that bottle feeding was a viable alternative. This was demonstrated by the women who had purchased a tin of baby milk (lest breast should fail), even if they had intended to breastfeed."The report also states that presentation of breastfeeding as a potential method must be carefully handled. Health workers may sometimes inadvertedly drive mothers to bottle feeding through hostility towards the practice. As one woman noted:"I felt under pressure to carry on breastfeeding... the midwife just kept going on "yeah, youÍve got to breastfeed, its bad for your baby to bottle feed and in the end I just thought "oh, sod you!" and just went out and bought a tin of babymilk."
The women interviewed called for more impartial information about infant feeding, preferably in a leaflet.
Martyn, T., An exploratory study to examine the influences which determine how and why mothers choose a particular brand of babymilk, M.Sc Thesis, 1996.