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BMJ. 2007 October 20; 335(7624): 794.
PMCID: PMC2034733

Government should restrict advertising of baby milk products, say campaigners

Protestors are urging the UK government to tighten safeguards regarding the sale and marketing of infant formula, as the Food Standards Agency prepares to publish proposals for modifying the regulations that control these products.

Last December the agency altered its advice to warn that “powdered infant and follow-on formulas are not sterile, which means they can contain harmful bacteria. So it is important to take care when preparing and storing formula, to reduce the risk of babies becoming ill. Bacteria will be killed if formula is made up following the advice, which includes using water that is at least 70°C.”

Now campaigners want the government to implement in full the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which was passed by the World Health Assembly in 1981, because they claim that the existing regulations are too weak.

Michael O'Donnell, head of hunger reduction at Save the Children, said, “The law that is supposed to stop formula milk companies from promoting their products and to protect babies and parents is not working. Formula companies are finding increasingly devious ways to beat the ban and continue to bombard parents with misleading information about the alleged similarities of breast and bottle.”

Andrew Radford, deputy director, Unicef UK, said, “The government has regularly stated that it wants to adopt World Health Organization recommendations, which would prohibit advertisements for formula, but has continually failed to act on these promises in the UK. We are, therefore, calling on the government to prohibit all formula milk advertising, so that parents can feed their babies using accurate information, free from commercial pressure.”

The Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of organisations that support UK health professionals and mothers, is calling for restrictions in any new legislation, including:

  • A ban on the promotion of all breast milk substitutes (including follow-on formula, specialised formulas, and other bottle fed products)
  • Prohibiting baby food companies from seeking direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers and carers of infants and young children and other members of the public
  • Prohibiting baby food companies from offering sales incentives and bonuses or setting sales quotas linked to breast milk substitutes for staff employed by or on behalf of the company
  • Prohibiting all idealising text and images about all substitutes for breast milk.

They also want any products to give clear warnings that powdered formula is not a sterile product and may contain harmful bacteria, alongside clear instructions on how to reduce risks from possible contamination.

Notes

Protecting Breastfeeding: Protecting Babies Fed on Formula: Why the UK Government Should Fulfil its Obligation to Implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is available at www.babymilkaction.org.


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