When manufactures try to sell moms the “breast milk substitute” that’s not even close to breast milk
The U.S. government is suing baby food maker Gerber, owned by Nestle SA, over health claims in baby formula advertisements. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Gerber allegedly advertised that its Good Start Gentle formula would reduce the risk of a baby developing allergies despite having no proof for the claim.
The FTC filed the lawsuit last week, saying that Gerber put stickers on the baby food which said the formula would “reduce the risk of developing allergies.”
The FTC also said that Gerber advertised that the Food and Drug Administration approved its health claims, although the agency had NOT done so.
This is not the first Nestle’s infant formula advertisement dispute. In 1974, Nestle was accused of getting third world mothers hooked on formula, which is less healthy and more expensive than breast milk. The allegations led to hearings in the U.S. Senate and the World Health Organization (WHO), resulting in a new set of marketing rules, known as today’s International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes.
Thirty years later, Nestle once again being accused for its infant formula advertisements. It is bigger than an exaggerated advertisement allegation. It is a reminder that inappropriate formula advertisement is still violating mothers’ and babies’ breastfeeding rights.
Today, many health care facilities and the largest formula makers continue to break the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitute in the U.S. and worldwide. It is reported that the largest formula makers in North America, including Mead Johnson of Enfamil, Abbott of Similac, and Nestle of Gerber Good Start are still distributing of commercial discharge bags with formula samples—a longstanding violation of the code.
It is recently reported to San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition that a hospital in the county is giving out formula samples to new mothers. A lactation consultant working with low-income, first-time mothers reported to the coalition that when working with a 15-years-old teenage mom, “she showed me a drawer full of those bottle-looking formulas! My client said herself that she thought it would be okay since the hospital gave it to her…I’m just saddened.”
It is a clear example how inappropriate formula marketing affect mothers’ breastfeeding decision and discourage public health workers, violating consumer rights, public health, women’s health, and corporate accountability.
Most health care professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. All infant formula try to mimic breast milk, but experts agree that the highly processed breast milk substitutes cannot compete with the real thing. However, when given information that has been influenced by formula companies, mothers can wrongly choose not to breastfeed.
Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is a human right. The violation of International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitute is a violation of human rights.
It is important for government officials and stakeholders to improve diets and raise nutrition levels through policies that more effectively address today’s major nutrition challenges. It is equally important for individuals to recognize the harm of inappropriate infant formula marketing and send messages to companies through different platforms.
The good thing is, breastfeeding advocates and mothers around the world never stopped fighting against formula ads in health care facilities. Earlier this year, Public Citizen led a day of action to urge the companies to end the unethical practice of promoting formula in health care facilities and thousands mothers participated. The work to keep infant formula marketing out of healthcare facilities continues.
TO-WEN TSENG 曾多聞