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Report shames aggressive infant nutrition marketing

By Alex McNally , 05-Dec-2007

A report has listed some 3,000 violations by a dozen infant nutrition companies who it says are breaking rules on marketing set by the World Health Assembly.

The catalogue of complaints comes from the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and alleges a series of "aggressive marketing" techniques used by large nutrition companies across the world. Heinz and Nestle are among the companies IBFAN says are violating the Assembly rules on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. IBFAN also says Nestle is "branding" babies at birth in some Chinese hospitals with wrist bands with the Nestle name and logo on. The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the decision-making body for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and has drawn up the international code of marketing for breastmilk substitutes. Increasingly companies have been looking for the best way of replicating the healthy profile of breast milk as closely as possible, and have been adding functional ingredients including omega-3, prebiotics and probiotics. Refuted But Nestle this morning hit back at those claims and said that under the WHO code they were allowed to donate equipment and materials to healthcare systems "with a company's name and logo - but not with a formula product name or brand." A spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com that the "are provided as a service to the hospitals with their approval, and is completely permitted." He added that Nestle "firmly believes that breast-feeding is the best way to feed a baby and we are strongly committed to the protection and promotion of breast-feeding." Heinz director of corporate and government affairs Nigel Dickie said the firm - which owns the Farley's brand - is "committed to abiding by UK legal requirements" and added that it "always welcome opportunities to listen to parents, regulators, NGOs and healthcare organisations about how we can improve the health and well-being of all babies." Co-author and legal advisor to IBFAN Yeong Joo Kean said: "The marketing of infant formula, follow-on formula, complementary foods and feeding equipment continues to be such a very lucrative business that companies deliberately ignore WHO recommendations in order to compete intensely with one another and against breastfeeding." The report has been welcomed by the campaign group Baby Milk Action (BMA). Policy director Patti Rundall said it was "shameful" how many of the innovations in "aggressive marketing" come from the UK. Infant nutrition is big business. According to analysts at Euromonitor, the milk formula market in Europe is worth the most in France, which this year is recorded at €597m, with Spain at €296m and the UK at €267m. New rules The report comes at a time when EU member states are drawing up new rules on the marketing of infant formulas. The new regulations cover a broad range of points hinged around making sure the nutritional value for any formula satisfies the nutritional requirements of the infant. It also hopes to make sure labelling and advertising is in line with the principles laid out in the European code, Commission Directive 2006/141/EC on infant formula and follow-on formula and amending Directive 1999/21/EC. But the subject has caused controversy as pressure groups say advertisements for formula are putting mothers off breastfeeding, and have called for a complete ban. Last week Nutricia - a subsidiary of Royal Numico - came under fire from BMA for handing over a "donation" to a group called MEND to help educate parents about the best way to feed their child. In the UK the Food Standards Agency issued draft guidelines to comply with the rules, which would allow only a small number of health and nutrition claims to be permitted on packaging for formula milk. Lactose only, lactose free, added long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP), reduced risk of allergy to milk proteins and nutrition linked to nucleotides, taurine and oligosaccharides will be the only claims allowed. Restrictions on marketing and promotion will outlaw directly targeting formula to new parents. Promotional material for infant formulas will not be able to feature text or images relating to pregnancy, including pictures of children under six months of age or images inciting a comparison to breast milk.

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