Press release 28 November 2012

Pfizer/Wyeth has another ruling against it today from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following a complaint brought by Baby Milk Action, this time against an email campaign for its SMA brand of formula. The email headed “How is feeding going?” was aimed at mothers with four-week-old babies and played on fears about milk intake and possible problems with breastfeeding before asking “Thinking of bottle feeding?” and promoting SMA infant formula with a claim it contains a fat blend closer to breastmilk.

The ASA ruling states:

“The ad must not appear again in its current form.  We told SMA [sic] not to produce marketing communications for infant formula except in a scientific publication or, for the purposes of trade before the retail stage, a publication of which the intended readers were not the general public.”

[The ruling is addressed to Pfizer, which sent the email. SMA is the brand of formula].

Detail from Wyeth promotional email in the UK 22 May 2012

The latest Government Infant Feeding Survey published on 20 November 2012 found that although 81% of mothers start breastfeeding, the rate then falls rapidly. The most common reasons for stopping breastfeeding early were problems with the baby rejecting the breast or not latching on properly, having painful breasts or nipples and feeling that they had ‘insufficient milk’. Baby Milk Action, which brought the complaint on behalf of a mother, points out that Pfizer/Wyeth exploited some of these concerns in steering mothers towards its SMA-branded telephone “Careline” and infant formula (extract of email below  – click here for full analysis).

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, who brought the complaint, said:

“Pfizer/Wyeth can add this latest ruling against its marketing strategies to the others and its 2003 criminal conviction for a ‘cynical and deliberate breach of the regulations’ at that time. The fact it thinks it can continue to get away with showing utter contempt for the regulations speaks volumes about how it puts its own profits before the well-being of babies and their families.

Detail from Wyeth promotional email in the UK 22 May 2012“This email campaign was particularly despicable as it targeted mothers when their babies are four weeks of age and plays on fears and problems they may be experiencing with breastfeeding to push Pfizer/Wyeth’s SMA brand of formula. It is hardly surprising that the government’s just published Infant Feeding Survey finds breastfeeding drops off so quickly in this country.

Mothers experiencing such difficulties need support to breastfeed and any mothers who choose to use formula need accurate independent information, not biased information from a company that is trying to increase sales of its over-priced product, breaks marketing rules and makes misleading statements. 

“We call on Pfizer/Wyeth to respect the ruling and immediately stop all email campaigns, websites, mother and baby clubs, pamphlets and other marketing communications it uses to promote its infant formula.”

Given its concerns about Pfizer/Wyeth’s misleading promotion, Baby Milk Action successfully campaigned to stop the company’s SMA Baby Know How roadshow scheduled to tour shopping centres in the UK in June and July 2012 – click here. On 16 November 2012, the Irish Midwife of the Year, Philomena Canning, refused her award after finding it was sponsored by Pfizer/Wyeth and would have branded her the “SMA Midwife of the Year” – click here. Pfizer sold its infant nutrition business to Nestlé in April 2012, though this is still subject to regulatory approval (something that has been blocked in Mexico, which may see the business there sold to Danone, the world’s second largest baby food company).

For further information contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179 

Notes for editors

The ASA ruling

Pfizer/Wyeth denied its email was advertising SMA infant formula. The ASA ruled, however,

“Because of these product references, we considered that the email appeared to promote SMA First Infant Milk to mothers having difficulty in breastfeeding or unwilling to breastfeed and was therefore an ad for that product.”

 The ASA dismissed the company’s claim the email was informational material, stating:

“We considered that the email featured several characteristics of an ad, both for the SMA brand, with references such as the name and logo, and for a specific product, with pack images and several product characteristic claims.  We also considered that its format (an email) was not inconsistent with the definition of advertising in the Food Safety Act 1990, and, by implication, the Regulations.”

Mike Brady commented on the ASA rejecting the complaint that the emails sent by Pfizer/Wyeth were unsolicited:

“While it is welcome that the ASA has upheld the complaint about illegal advertising of formula, it is a great concern that it has sided with the company rather than the mother regarding the emails being unsolicited. She said she had not given Pfizer/Wyeth permission to email her and was clear she would not have signed up for emails about SMA formula even if she had visited the site that Pfizer/Wyeth alleges, which she says she had not. We informed the ASA that this mother was not alone in reporting unsolicited emails from Pfizer/Wyeth, but the ASA said it could not consider the evidence from other mothers in this case.”

For Baby Milk Action’s wider concerns about the industry-funded ASA see the briefing: How the Advertising Standards Authority fails to protect babies and their families in the UK.

Baby Milk Action points out that Pfizer/Wyeth has a long history of rule breaking and the current regulatory system is failing to deter it. On 19 September 2012 the ASA ruled against Pfizer/Wyeth’s advertising campaign headlined “What’s the best milk after Kate’s?” after finding the company could not substantiate that its formula is better than other brands – click herePfizer/Wyeth received a criminal conviction in 2003 for a “cyncial and deliberate breach of the regulations” after Birmingham Trading Standards brought a case over an advertising campaign – click here.

“No promotion, cheaper formula”

Baby Milk Action is a not-for-profit organisation that monitors the baby food industry. It is highlighting that such misleading advertising is designed to inflate prices and is ultimately funded by a premium on the price of formula.

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said:

“Formula is a legitimate product, but it is the responsibility of health workers to advise parents, not company’s with a vested interest in increasing sales and inflating prices. Parents who buy formula already pay a premium to cover these expensive marketing campaigns. All formulas have to comply with legal composition requirements.

“These misleading promotions should not be allowed to even get off the ground. We are receiving widespread support for our ‘no promotion, cheaper formula’ petition campaign.” 

 The “no promotion, cheaper formula” petition campaign on Change.org is backed by Mumsnet and mother support groups. It can be signed at:

http://www.change.org/petitions/baby-milk-companies-no-promotion-cheaper-formula

Based on figures from dairy farmers, Baby Milk Action has calculated that between 50% and 80% of the selling price of formula goes to promotional budgets and company profits. This means a family feeding a child with formula for 12 months will pay between £300 and £800 towards company promotion and profits, depending on whether they use powdered formula or more expensive ready-to-feed – click here.

For further information contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179 

 

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