Over the weekend, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that Danone had mislead mothers in Turkey with a marketing campaign that warned they might not be providing their babies with enough breast milk to meet nutritional needs.
The campaign suggested that infant formula be used to cover any shortfalls.
Danone argued that its advice to Turkish mothers was based on WHO guidance, and claimed that both WHO and UNICEF endorsed its campaign.
Both parties have, however, denied ever endorsing the French firm’s actions.
“UNICEF in principle will never support the use of infant formula for children under the age of six months,” a UNICEF representative told DairyReporter.com earlier today.
Also commenting, WHO representative, Dr João Breda, told DairyReporter.com that the organisation’s name and logo were being used on Danone-related websites without its permission.
“We have requested that Danone remove these references immediately,” he said.
“Does not reflect WHO recommendations”
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report, Danone’s Turkish infant nutrition business, Numil, began the campaign in 2010 after conducting research to measure the breast milk production of mothers of children aged six-months.
Those involved were found to produce an average of 290ml per day.
Consulting a WHO research bulletin regarding the energy needs of children over the age of six-months, Danone developed a campaign to promote 500ml as the ideal level of infant formula intake for a six-month old – incorrectly claiming it was based on a WHO recommendation.
This message was promoted in supermarkets online, and on TV, with on advert stating: “Your baby needs at 500ml milk per day. If your breast milk is not enough, give Aptamil formula to support your baby’s immune system.”
Commenting on the campaign, WHO's Breda said that Danone’s 500ml recommendation “does not reflect WHO recommendations” and its interpretation of its document was “to meet its own requirements.”
“Let me be crystal clear here, the WHO has never had any interaction with Danone in this context previously,” said Breda. “Any statement made about WHO having made any endorsement does not corresponds to the reality.”
“WHO recommends that children are exclusively breast fed up to the age of six months, and past that date if possible.”
Promote and protect breastfeeding
Breda added that “even if with good intentions” the message conveyed by Danone could cause problems.
“Turkey is doing well in terms of breastfeeding, but other countries are not. It is not only our job to promote breastfeeding, but also to protect it,” he said.
Baby Milk Action, which works to implement effective controls on the marketing of infant formula, has welcomed the investigation.
“It is very welcome to see such prominent coverage of this example of baby food companies breaking the rules,” said Mike Brady, campaigns and networking coordinator at Baby Milk Action.