Baby Milk Marketing

On Thursday 13 May, in conjunction with Baby Milk Action I launched a report of international monitoring evidence of breaches of the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing.

At the meeting, I highlighted the shocking statistic from Department of Health research which showed that that 34% of women thought that bottle feeding was equivalent to breastfeeding. At the launch of the report, MPs and other attendees saw photographic evidence of blatant breaches of the International Code. The following press release gives details of the Early Day Motion that I tabled to coincide with the launch:


Lynne Jones MP for Birmingham Selly Oak is today hosting a meeting in the House of Commons, Jubilee Room at 10.30am where international monitors will expose baby food companies for breaching the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing.  The MP has tabled the following Early Day Motion:

EDM 1173 BABY FOOD MARKETING 12.05.04 Jones/Lynne

That this House notes that the monitoring evidence collected by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), a network of more than 200 groups in over 100 countries, demonstrates that companies continue to market baby food products in breach of the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant resolutions; also notes that where there is malpractice it is systematic and institutionalised and that, globally, 1.5 million infants die every year because they are not breastfed, and that even in industrialised countries with universal access to health care, there are significant negative effects of artificial infant feeding, including increased risk of diabetes and obesity; is concerned that UK law only implements some provisions of the Code, limiting these to infant formula, not all breastmilk substitutes, and that follow-on formula, with similar packaging and the same name as the infant formula, is widely advertised, that bottles and teat marketing is totally unregulated, and that while the Code bans direct contact with the mother, UK companies have baby clubs and carelines; therefore calls on the Government to support independently monitored and enforced legislation fully implementing the Code and resolutions at UK, EU and international level and additional WHA resolutions to strengthen protection of appropriate infant feeding practices, to address emerging aggressive baby milk food marketing, to make appropriate policy changes in response to scientific developments, and to take action to ensure that EU Council Resolution 92/C172/01 on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in third countries by community-based manufacturers functions effectively.

Please see below for the IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) PRESS RELEASE 14th May 2004:

Baby food companies exposed as IBFAN presents evidence at UK Parliament

Click here for reports presented to the meeting

Selected media coverage: The Guardian - The Scotsman - BBC - BMJ - China Daily

A study in today's Lancet showing the increased risk of heart disease for bottle-fed babies reinforces the list of health risks of artificial feeding (click here for Guardian report). This news comes as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launches its latest monitoring report documenting how baby food companies idealise their products, ignoring the negative health impact of artificial feeding. Evidence gathered through monitoring of baby food companies in 69 countries was presented at the House of Commons on 13 May.

The meeting was hosted by UK Member of Parliament, Lynne Jones MP (right), who has tabled an Early Day Motion (a petition for MPs) calling for the UK Government to support action to end baby food marketing malpractice in the UK and in other countries. This is already receiving significant support across political parties.

The IBFAN experts are on their way to Geneva, where the World Health Assembly is meeting from 17 May to discuss current concerns in infant and young child nutrition, such as bacterial contamination of powdered formula and the increased use of bogus health claims to promote artificial feeding.

The Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2004 monitoring report analyses the promotional practices of 16 transnational baby food companies and 14 bottle and teat companies between January 2002 and April 2004. The benchmark standards used for measuring marketing practices are the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolutions. The marketing requirements aim to defend breastfeeding and to ensure that breastmilk substitutes are used safely, if necessary, on the basis of adequate information and appropriate marketing.

Some 3,000 complaints were received from monitors in 69 countries around the world. After legal checking about 2,000 violations were reported in Breaking the Rules and many of these came with photos.

Yeong Joo Kean, IBFAN's Legal Advisor said:

"We have 712 pictures of actual violations in the report. There is no way that the companies can deny that they were found in flagrant violation of the Code and Resolutions."

Click here for an overview of the report, which highlights the following trends in violations:

  • 'Functional' claims. Companies try to differentiate their formulas by adding a string of additives and then claiming performance benefits for these.
  • Free and low-cost supplies continue.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months continues to be undermined by most companies.
  • Information to health professionals. Companies violate the requirement that this is restrict to scientific and factual matters.
  • Health facilities and health workers continue to be targeted.
  • Sponsorship of medical seminars, conferences and associations of medical professionals is becoming more widespread.

Click here to download the full 94-page report containing profiles of the big 16 baby food companies: Abbott-Ross, Danone, Dumex, Friesland, Gerber, Heinz, Hipp, Humana, Mead Johnson, Meiji, Milupa, Morinaga, Nestlé, Nutricia, Snow and Wyeth. The major bottle and teat companies are also evaluated.

Country summary reports with the title Look What They're Doing have been prepared for the following countries:

Typical company responses to reports of violations are available on the Baby Milk Action website.

For further information contact: Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK.
International Tel: +44 1223 464420 - Mobile: +44 7986 736179
UK Tel: 01223 464420 - Mobile: 07986 736179

Notes for editors

  1. Contact details for companies implicated in the monitoring are available from Baby Milk Action. Baby Milk Action and Nestlé have taken part in head-to-head interviews in the past (Nestlé’s Senior Policy Advisor on its infant nutrition business, Beverley Mirando, can be contacted on +44 208 6675317). Examples of past inadequate responses to reports of violations can be found in the ‘codewatch’ section of the Baby Milk Action website:
  2. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 as a ‘minimum requirement’ to be implemented in its ‘entirety’ by all countries. Under Article 11.3 manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of the Code are required to ensure their activities at every level comply, independently of government measures. Subsequent Resolutions address questions of interpretation and changes in scientific knowledge and marketing practices. Company policies are very different from the Code and Resolutions, for example, referring only to infant formula. Monitoring demonstrates systematic and institutionalised violations of the Code and Resolutions as well as the companies’ narrower policies.
  3. The World Health Assembly is to discuss infant and young child nutrition at its meeting during the week of 17 May. At the preliminary World Health Organisation (WHO) Executive Board meeting in January 2004, the normal practice of preparing a draft Resolution to address current concerns was sidelined. Enterobacter Sakazakii contamination of powdered formula and the long-term health disadvantages of artificial feeding are key issues the industry does not wish to be addressed. Surveys, following the death of an infant in Belgium from meningitis attributed to contaminated Nestlé formula, have found a high proportion of tins of formula are contaminated during the manufacturing process after pasteurisation. At its recent AGM, Nestlé refused to unilaterally provide warnings on its labels (see Baby Milk Action press release 22 April).
  4. According to UNICEF: “Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year“ (State of the World’s Children 2001). This is equivalent to one needless death every 30 seconds.


Baby Milk Action Press Release for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week:

It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week, but companies can still get away with saying ‘nothing could be simpler or safer’ than bottle-feeding

10 May 2004

While the Government and health campaigners attempt to raise awareness of the benefits to infants and mothers of breastfeeding (it is currently National Breastfeeding Awareness Week), a new report reveals that companies in the UK are routinely violating marketing regulations for breastmilk substitutes and encouraging mothers and health workers to favour artificial feeding over breastfeeding. Baby Milk Action is to launch a report on violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly, and the weaker UK law on baby milk marketing, at the House of Commons on Thursday 13th May. Members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) from around the world will also be presenting evidence gathered through monitoring of baby food companies in 69 countries. The meeting in the Jubilee Room, 10.30 to 11.30, is being hosted by Lynne Jones MP who is tabling an Early Day Motion calling for the UK Government to support action to end baby food marketing malpractice in the UK and in other countries.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Cambridge-based Baby Milk Action, which is coordinating on-going monitoring in the UK, said:

“We are perhaps best known for promoting the boycott of Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies at a global level, but we also work to improve legislation in the UK. Baby Milk Action and members of the public have reported many cases of illegal promotion of baby milks to Trading Standards officers in recent months. Prompt action is taken, but the UK Law is so narrow companies can get away with suggesting their milks increase a baby’s intelligence or nothing is simpler or safer than bottle-feeding. There are short and long-term health consequences to artificial feeding. It costs the NHS millions per year treating sickness associated with artificial feeding. In developing countries, where there is less access to health care, a child dies every 30 seconds because it was not breastfed. Mothers in the UK have as much right to information on infant feeding free from commercial pressure as mothers in other countries.”

A UK Department of Health survey released for Breastfeeding Awareness Week shows that 34% of women incorrectly believe that modern infant formula milks are very similar or the same as breast milk (see Myths stop women giving babies the best start in life. This is the message baby food companies present in their promotional campaigns. A preview copy of the summary UK monitoring report can be emailed to journalists on request.

Reports from other countries will be available at the meeting on 13 May and shortly afterward on the website along with the full global monitoring report.

For further information contact: Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK. Tel +44 (0)1223 464420 Fax: +44 (0)1223 464417 Mobile: 07986 736179

Notes for Editors

Wyeth was successfully prosecuted in 2003 for running an SMA advertisement claiming: “It’s great to know your bottle-fed baby is getting the best start in life.” (click for press release).

Companies continue to run advertisements claiming formula will “support natural defences” or will be “nourishing baby’s body and mind”.

Bottle firm Maws has claimed its bottles are “clinically proven to reduce crying time.... nothing could be simpler or safer” (click here to see the Maws advertisement).

NUMICO sends postcards to pregnant women and new mothers encouraging them to call its Milupa and Cow&Gate-branded “carelines” for information on infant care.

The monitoring report reveals other strategies, including how baby food companies are training health workers on infant nutrition and even running ante-natal and post-natal classes for mothers.

For more information, please see:

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Question in the Commons...

20 May 2004 : Column 1107

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1173? [see opposite for text]. The motion was tabled in national breast-feeding awareness week, and draws attention to the violations of the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes by the manufacturers of baby food products, and the consequential harmful effect that that is having on infant mortality across the world, and even on public health in this country. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) has accepted that the 1995 regulations on infant formula are not fully in compliance with the code. Will my right hon. Friend make time available so that the Government can implement the recommendation of the committee on the rights of the child that the UK should adopt the international code in full?

Mr. Hain: All parents will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. As she says, the Government are well aware of the differences between United Kingdom legislation and the international code, and we are exploring, with the Food Standards Agency, ways in which our regulations could be better aligned to the code.

Source: Hansard


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