Oxford English Dictionary definition of idealize: “regard or represent as perfect or better than in reality.”
At lunchtime today – 11th June – the European Parliament voted through new regulations that will apply to the marketing of baby foods and formulas in all EU member states. Although the proposed changes still fall far short of the minimum marketing standards that the World Health Assembly calls on governments to introduce, they will close some loopholes exploited by baby milk companies. In particular, the new regulations will address some of the confusion caused by treating infant formula and follow-on formula differently. The new rules will extend the ban on idealising images and text on labels to follow-on formulas.
Follow-on formula (for use from 6 months of age) is an unnecessary product used to circumvent the regulations on infant formula (for use from birth). The changes will not prevent products being sold and aim to ensure labels provide accurate information, a step forward welcomed by Baby Milk Action.
CLICK HERE for report on the EU Parliament website
CLICK HERE for background information and further links.
Baby Milk Action, the International Baby Food Action Network and the Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of 23 leading health bodies including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, have been working with MEPs and Member States to bring about an overhaul of these regulations for over 20 years – aware that mothers have been misled by the aggressive promotion carried out by the baby food industry.
Frédérique Ries, a Belgian member of the ALDE group who is responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament said: “Infants, young children and seriously ill people are clearly not consumers like any others and it is our duty as legislator to fix stricter rules to govern, for example, the composition and labelling of foodstuffs intended for them,” said “On the other hand, it is also important to establish order in the jungle of food products, by abolishing the concept of dietetic food cannibalised by marketing tools.”
Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, said: “We are grateful to all the MEPs and Member States who have been working with us to improve these regulations. The new rules are clearly an important step in the right direction and long overdue. All parents want the best for thir children – and if they are being bombarded with idealised promotion – which by definition is misleading – its almost impossible to make wise decisions. All this should have disappeared 30 years ago when the World Health Assembly first took action of this issue, with the support of all EU countries”
If the new regulations are adopted several new safeguards will come in. For example, there should soon be tighter controls on the labelling of follow-on milks (baby pictures and idealising text will be banned), stricter controls on foods claiming to be ‘for special medical purposes’ including formulas for pre-term babies, increased transparency and more democratic oversight, with European Parliamentarians having a say in whether new ingredients can be added. Currently manufacturers are allowed to add any ingredient – even ingredients that are not listed in the Annex of the Regulations – provided they submit a label to national authorities. The company only has to provide evidence of efficacy if the Member State authorities take the trouble to request it.
Notes of an EU Standing Committee show that the UK Government recently asked a company (HIPP) to remove infant formula and follow-on formulas containing a ‘probiotic bacteria’ from the UK market. This followed the advice of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s Subgroup on Maternal and Child Nutrition that there was insufficient evidence to support its inclusion. (1)
Milks for older babies Member States and MEPs across all parties have expressed concern about the promotion of the new milks targetting older babies – misleadingly called “Growing Up’ and ‘Toddler’ milks. These products are invariably expensive and have high sugar levels. With worldwide concern about obesity levels in mind, the new regulations call for an evaluation of the need for these products by the European Food Safety Authroity.
Follow-on formulas – formulas marketed for babies over 6 months – have been used by the baby food industry to get round the restrictions that were adopted by the World Health Assembly. The Assembly and all health groups considers these products to be unnecessary. Babies who are not breastfed and need formula can continue to have infant formula after 6 months. The EU has allowed these products to be promoted so aggressively for decades simply because of the commercial pressure to do so.
The new Regulations will not go include all the changes wanted by health campaigners – such as a ban on advertising and promotion of follow-on formulas – but it will be an important step in the right direction in the protection of infant and young child health
Campaigners say that even with the new changes, the EU is still a long way from meeting its obligations under World Health Assembly Resolutions. While labels are important, they are just one part of the problem. In the coming months efforts will be stepped up to curb all the advertising and promotion.
(1) According to the SUMMARY REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE FOOD CHAIN AND ANIMAL HEALTH HELD IN BRUSSELS ON 29 APRIL 2013 “…when a food business operator places a product with a new ingredient on the market, a dossier substantiating that the ingredient is safe and suitable for the intended purpose, must be available. The Member State may request to evaluate that dossier if they wish to do so and it is their right to consider that the ingredient does not meet the requirements of Articles 4 to 6 and to refuse the placing on the market of products with such ingredient.”
CLICK HERE – for more background to this story