UK baby milk industry wins labelling battle

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk

Infant and follow-on formula manufacturers will not have to
re-label their products until 2010 after the English High Court
upheld a legal challenge brought by the Infant and Dietetic Foods
Association (IDFA) against the government.

The 2007 European Union Recast Infant and Follow-On Formula Directive was due to come into force on January 11, requiring manufacturers to remove prebiotic, probiotic and other health claims not backed by scientific dossiers. The Department of Health (DOH) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) sought its immediate implementation, but the IDFA argued the two-year transition period written into the Directive should be followed and the judge agreed. It is unclear if a challenge will be mounted by DOH and FSA. A similar case in Northern Ireland is yet to reach conclusion as it was awaiting the English verdict but a stay on the Directive's implementation is in place there. Only in Scotland is the Directive technically in place, although a judicial review is expected imminently which may align it with the English and Welsh positions. Buying time "We are pleased that the industry has been given until 31st​ December 2009 to implement the required labelling changes,,"​ said IDFA director general Roger Clarke. "We are also pleased that [the judge] has lifted the stay on the remainder of the legislation granted previously as we welcome the Directive."​ In court, IDFA, whose members include Nutricia, SMA, Heinz Farley and Nestle, stated it did not oppose the general thrust of the Directive that "breast is best", but that the DOH and FSA plan to implement the Directive without the two-year transition period being enjoyed by all other member states was "impractical". This means that while manufacturers are under no requirement to alter their labels for another two years they must change advertising and marketing campaigns in other media. Opposition ​ However groups such as pro-breast milk lobbyist, Baby Milk Action (BMA), which submitted evidence to the High Court hearing, argued industry had had much longer than that since the Directive had first come into play in 2006 before being amended last year. BMA spokesperson Patti Rundall, accused the infant formula industry of putting commercial interests ahead of the health of newborn babies and infants. BMA believes infant milk and follow-on formula is over-aggressively marketed, leading to a reduction in breast milk feeding rates and diminished infant health. Rundall told the fact no other EU member state was implementing the Directive immediately was irrelevant to the UK situation because infant formula and follow-on milk was not marketed as ostentatiously in most continental markets and therefore few products required re-labelling to meet the Directive's demands. "This is a very disappointing judgment,"​ she said. "The legal action itself shows the irresponsibility of the manufacturing companies in seeking judicial review purely for their own commercial purposes, putting those way ahead of the need for new labelling to protect the health of babies. Their actions could have serious social and environmental consequences."​ She said the UK Trading Standards body was monitoring manufacturers' non-label marketing campaigns to ensure they complied with the Directive. The European infant formula market is estimated to be worth about €600m.

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