The Independent Review Panel (IRP) voices concerns held by LACORS – the UK local trading standards enforcement agency – that classification of baby milk that often include omega-3s and prebiotics is not clear enough.
"One of the major problems for enforcement officers is the use of advertising and promotional material which blurs the distinction between follow-on formula and infant formula," the IRP concluded.
Patti Rundall policy director at the UK-based pro-breastfeeding group, Baby Milk Action (BMA), said both LACORS and the UK Food Standards Agency Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition had unsuccessfully lobbied for marketing to be banned for follow-on formula just as it for baby milk formula.
But Rundall welcomed the IRP recommendation that enforcement methods needed to be looked at. BMA supports banning advertising for both baby milk and infant formula, whereas EU laws only ban the practice for baby milk.
Considering the issue the IRP panel found: "…any ban on the advertising of follow-on formula, is a decision for policy makers, who if sufficiently concerned could consider the precautionary principle."
Rundall said follow-on formula makers engaged in “aggressive marketing” that distorted breastfeeding rates to the detriment of infant health.
“It is nearly 30 years since the UK first promised to protect mothers and babies – it is high time the health professionals were listened to and these flawed regulations fixed."
BMA campaigns and networking coordinator, Mike Brady, said the IRP report gave more fuel to enact change about follow-on formula marketing.
"With an election looming we are call on all party leaders to commit to revising the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations so that the problems encountered with enforcing the Regulations are addressed,” Brady said.
“It is a disgrace that companies are still using misleading advertising and gifts to target mothers and health workers and make promotional claims on labels."
The IRP review was commissioned in the UK parliament in January, 2008.
BMA criticised the IRP for focusing on potential baby milk-infant formula confusion that may exist among caregivers rather than internet, point-of-sale promotion, baby clubs, care lines, labels and health claims that continue to promote follow-on formula.
BMA noted a 2008 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report on the UK that stated concern over the: “…implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common. The Committee recommends that the State party implement fully the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes."