Nestlé urged to ‘rectify inconsistencies’ in infant formula marketing response

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/vchal
©iStock/vchal

Related tags: Infant formula

The fallout from a report questioning Nestlé’s approach to marketing infant formula continued as the report’s authors urged the firm to provide “meaningful” answers in their response to the allegations.

In a statement issued by The Changing Markets Foundation, Nestle are accused of failing to act when confronted with findings that show how nutritional science is used as a marketing tool rather than in the best interest of children.

The Foundation’s campaigns director Nusa Urbancic said, “As a company that claims to be committed to science, we believe that Nestlé should take immediate action to address inconsistencies identified in the composition of its products at a global level.

“While we welcome their new commitment to phase out certain unhealthy ingredients, such as sucrose, we are disappointed that their statement only touches the surface of the concerns flagged up in our report and eludes any meaningful commitment in response to our findings.”

Breastmilk comparisons

In response to the recent report​ entitled “Busting the Myth of Science-Based Formula,” Nestlé’s statement​ points to a number of inaccuracies included in the findings.

These include the use of statements on some products sold in the US, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Spain that allude to their closeness to breastmilk.

“All these statements are compliant with regulatory requirements in these countries,” ​said Nestlé.

“We do not use any statements on our infant formula products or in our other communications that idealize our products or imply they are superior to or equivalent to breastmilk.

“Modern infant formulas are compositionally closer to human milk. As such, we permit communications stating that our infant formula ingredients are 'inspired by breastmilk' or contain components comparable with components of breastmilk.”

Sucrose and vanilla

Nestlé denied claims in the report that they used sucrose in any of its products for infants (0-6 months), adding that they were voluntarily eliminating sucrose from all other follow-on formula products (6-12 months), by the end of 2018 for this age range.

They stated that as of today, sucrose was present in less than 10% of its recipes for that age range.

“Vanilla flavouring is safe and permitted for infants above 6 months of age, according to CODEX,”​ they added.

“It is present in a very limited number of products for this age range, and is not used in our infant formula products in South Africa, contrary to what the report states.”

Alliance’s response

In response, a letter​—jointly drafted and signed by Urbancic and representatives from the Globalization Monitor and SumofUs—was sent to Christian Frutiger, Nestlé’s global head of public affairs.

In it, the NGO alliance emphasised the main question asked in the report -whether Nestlé planned to commit to following scientific nutritional advice across its whole product range - remained unanswered in their response.

“We reject the assertion that there are inaccuracies in the report,”​ the letter went on.

Referring to Nestlé’s claims that they did not to use any statements on infant formula that idealise or imply products were superior to or equivalent to breastmilk, the letter argued that “it is difficult to understand what purpose statements included on some of your products”.

They identified the phrase “our closest to breastmilk,”​ used in USA Stage 1 Gerber Good Start Gentle Formula as an example of “trying to serve if not attempting to draw an equivalence with breastmilk”.

The Code

The Alliance also questioned the firm’s commitment to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in response to statements used for products sold in the US, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Spain.

Nestlé were accused of being “content to continue to make claims explicitly prohibited by the Code in countries not deemed high risk, as long as these countries have not explicitly prohibited such claims”.

“This is also problematic from the perspective of your scientific credibility, as there is clear scientific consensus that formula can never be close to breastmilk.

“Furthermore, despite the language used (i.e. “our closest to breastmilk”, “following the example of breastmilk”, “inspired by human milk”, etc), all the products identified in the report had different nutritional composition and the rationale for such differences is not addressed in your response.”

The letter also detailed the addition of sucrose and flavourings mentioned by Nestle was not explicitly prohibited by legislative requirements, but added that the absence of these ingredients in products was used as a “marketing tool in some countries.”

“The report does not claim that there is sucrose in products between 0-6 months, as pointed out in your response, but questions the inconsistencies found in Nestlé’s formula product range i.e. advising against adding sucrose on some products, yet putting it into others,” ​the report went on.

“We welcome your commitment in your letter to phase out sucrose from all your products for infants under 12 months. We encourage you to follow the same logic with vanilla flavourings, which is rightly described on some of Nestlé’s formulas as a less healthy substance.”

Nestle did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

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