London-based
Save the Children says the leading six milk formula companies spend GBP36
(US$49.4) on marketing for every baby born every year , or GBP5bn in total,
which, it claims, violates rules and threatens lives.

It
suggests the companies – NestleDanone; Reckitt
Benckiser, the owner of Mead JohnsonAbbott LaboratoriesKraft Heinz; and FrieslandCampina – “routinely
violate” a World Health Organization (WHO) code set up to stop aggressive
marketing to new mums.

The
two companies which the charity suggests are the worst offenders – Nestle
and Danone – responded to the allegations.

Nestle
said “the allegations made in the report do not represent Nestle’s culture
and business practices,” while French dairy heavyweight Danone said it is
“fully committed to ensuring that marketing of our products does not
negatively affect the choice and ability of mothers to breastfeed”.

Save
the Children draws a picture of parents bombarded with advertisements, including
false health claims and social media promotions, and doctors reportedly
receiving gifts and incentives to promote infant formula.

Its
report – Don’t push it:
Why the formula milk industry must clean up its act
 – says
823,000 child deaths could be prevented each year by near universal
breastfeeding, yet marketing spend by just six breast milk substitute companies
dwarfs public health budgets to promote breastfeeding.

It
says millions of families – many in low-income settings – have fed their babies
formula they do not need and very often cannot afford.

The
charity ranks the six companies based on WHO code compliance and is calling on
manufacturers, investors and governments to commit to putting an end to what it
describes as “dangerous marketing practices”. 

The
WHO code states there should be ‘no promotion to the public’ of breast milk
substitutes because of incontrovertible evidence that breastfeeding provides
children with the best start in life.

Kevin
Watkins, Save the Children UK CEO, said: “Today’s report uncovers a
‘battle for baby bucks’ in which companies are deliberately using aggressive
marketing to create a fog of uncertainty around breastfeeding.

“This
a first in the history of human evolution. Never before has the way babies and
small children are nourished changed so dramatically and on such a scale.

“It’s
a matter of life and death – there is little doubt many babies in low and
middle income settings are dying as a result. It’s time the breast-milk
substitute industry put babies before profit.

“With
the right commitment these companies can show the leadership needed to change
the industry. We are hopeful this will be the wake-up call they need to do
so.”

Save
the Children is calling for the companies highlighted to publicly and
unequivocally commit to upholding the WHO code and agree to meet targets set to
achieve full compliance.

It
also wants governments to incorporate the code and subsequent resolutions fully
into their laws and regulations.

In
response to the report, Nestle said: “The first and most fundamental
expression of our respect for mothers and babies is support for breastfeeding
and compliance with the law and our own strict procedures. 

“We
strongly reject the allegation that the company does not comply with its legal
obligations and the WHO Code as implemented in national law.”

However,
Nestle stressed if Save the Children passed on details of the allegations
of incidents of non-compliance in its report it will take “fast and
decisive action if any wrongdoing is found”.

Danone
was also quick to refute the allegations against the company contained in
the report.

It
said: “We inform parents and care-givers that our research is inspired by
breast milk, and that this has enabled us to develop our products. Insight in
the composition, structure and functionality of ingredients found in breast
milk helps us to better understand the early life nutritional needs of infants
and develop optimal nutrition for infants. 

“We
do not idealise the use of our products in any way, nor imply that they are
superior or equivalent to breast milk. 

“We
support the WHO public health recommendation calling for exclusive
breastfeeding for the first six months of age, and continued breastfeeding for
up to two years and beyond combined with the safe introduction of appropriate
complementary foods.”

But
Danone acknowledged it is “possible that isolated instances of
non-compliance with our policy and instructions at local level may occur which
we actively remediate”.

Approached
by just-food for comment, Kraft Heinz provided a statement. It said:
“Kraft Heinz recognises the importance and the superiority of breast milk
in feeding infants and young children. As outlined in our company policy, Kraft
Heinz has developed a worldwide charter of practice for consistent marketing of
breast-milk substitutes where we have a baby food business. The aim is to
support breast-feeding and, when breast-feeding cannot be provided, to outline
principles and requirements to provide safe and adequate nutrition for infants
and young children.”

Meanwhile,
a spokesperson for Dutch dairy co-op FrieslandCampina said: “The
conclusions in the report are largely based on the Global Access to Nutrition
Index of the Access to Nutrition Foundation published in 2016. Last year
FrieslandCampina updated its policy, standard and guideline for the marketing
of infant foods; for this update the results of ATNI 2016 were taken into
account.”

The
spokesperson declined to comment further.

Officials
at Reckitt Benckiser and Abbott had not returned requests for comment at
the time of writing.

Source: Just Food