Arthur Neslen Tue 9 Apr 2019 06.00 The Guardian
Firm selling vanilla-flavoured formulas in Hong Kong despite advertising products in China as healthy options, says report
Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has broken a pledge to end the use of vanilla flavourings in baby milk powders, according to a report.
The Swiss multinational has continued to sell vanilla-flavoured infant formulas in Hong Kong, even though it advertises infant products in mainland China as healthy options because they do not contain the flavouring, the report by the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF) found.
Nusa Urbancic, a CMF spokeswoman, said: “If mothers cannot or choose not to breastfeed, companies like Nestlé have a huge responsibility to provide products that are safe, nutritionally complete and informed by the best available science. Our report confirms that Nestlé continues to use science as merely a marketing tool, valuing higher profit margins over its scientific credibility.”
Nestlé did remove sucrose flavourings, but continued to manufacture infant formulas with vanillin, telling CMF that it would “communicate timelines [for a phaseout] as soon as we have a technical solution”.
However, it did not do so and later stopped replying to questions about the timeline, the CMF says.
In its emails, Nestlé emphasised that it had applied the World Health Organization instructions “as implemented by governments”, adding that the Hong Kong code was “stricter than our own policy”.
Sue Ashmore, Unicef UK’s programme director, said: “We urgently need better legislation to protect families from these misleading marketing claims, and better promotion of evidence-based, unbiased information about infant feeding.”
Nestlé has also continued to promote its Illuma infant formula in Hong Kong as “ever closer to lactating secretion”, despite WHO guidance prohibiting promotions suggesting equivalence with breastmilk.
Illuma is sold under a “human affinity formula” trademark and its website says that Nestlé is “dedicated to unveil the mystery of human milk … replicating as nature intended with revolutionary technologies”.
A consumer survey commissioned by CMF found that half of all parents in the UK and Hong Kong trusted the information provided by baby milk producers and only 20% and 30% respectively sought out independent nutritional advice on the products. Global sales of breastmilk substitutes are expected to rise to $70bn (£54bn) by the end of this year, up from $44bn in 2014.
A Nestle spokesperson said: “We have voluntarily decided to remove
from the few recipes that still contain [them]. We are in the process of finding alternatives. We are also removing vanillin claims in new labels.
“We do not use any statements that idealise our products or imply that they are superior to or equivalent to breastmilk on our infant formula labels or communications materials. We communicate that products are ‘inspired by breastmilk’.”