Press release 15 June 2012
The vote on the European Parliament’s Report on the Commission proposal for a Regulation on Food for infants & young children and for special medical purposes took place on 14 June in Strasbourg
European Parliamentarians adopted the report after amending it. It calls for significant strengthening of the rules governing the manufacture, marketing and safety of baby foods. The European Commission and Council of Minister will now have to take this report into account when they introduce the new regulation they are preparing to simplify and rationalise the existing EU rules.
The regulations when passed should toughen up labelling controls and ban baby pictures and idealising images on follow-on formulas for babies over 6 months and should marginally increase protection to the right of pregnant women and parents to accurate information on infant feeding The amended report also calls for independent research, the precautionary principle, transparency, democratic oversight and an EFSA evaluation of the high sugar and expensive new milks targetting older babies.
Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, who was present in Strasbourg, said:
“The EU is still a long way from meeting its obligations under World Health Assembly Resolutions and human rights instruments. So of course we welcome the new safeguards outlined in the MEP report. But to put this in context, the idealising text and images that MEPs want removed from follow-on formula labels should have disappeared 30 years ago when the World Health Assembly first took action on this scandal and all EU countries helped adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. But while labels are important, they are just one part of the problem. It is essential that the advertising and targeting of pregnant women and parents is curbed. We hope the Commission and Member states will take on board the clear concerns expressed by so many MEPs today.”
With the EU baby food promotion varies dramatically with hardly any in some countries, while in others there is advertising on TV, in print media, on billboards and buses, and through company ‘mother and baby clubs’.
Some EU countries have already banned such advertising and promotion in their interpretation of existing rules, but others, such as the UK, have faced huge opposition from companies when trying to do so. When the British Government last revised legislation, it indicated it was fearful of being taken to the European Court if it followed the example of other countries, such as Luxembourg.
Mike Brady, coordinator of a monitoring project in the UK on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group (a coalition of health professional and mother support groups), commented
“Let’s not forget that the existing ban on such text and images on infant formula labels is routinely flouted by companies in many Member States, with images such as shields, polar bears and unauthorised health claims appearing. Any demand by the companies for a delay to comply with these new regulations must be resisted as by rights they should be changing their labels in any case.”
Two important amendments proposed by the Socialists and Greens, calling for EU legislation to specifically state that Member States are free to go further and ban the advertising of follow formula and baby foods, provoked the most debate with much support from the majority of speakers. While gaining strong backing, they were not passed. Commissioner Dalli, expressed willingness to look at at extension of advertising prohibitions to follow-on milks proposed by the Socialists, but not to the Green amendment covering advertising of baby foods, which he said would affect the internal market too much.
During the debate, MEPs argued that follow-on milks marketing – which WHO, UNICEF and the UK Food Standards Agency consider unnecessary – is misleading. Glenis Willmott (S&D UK) said that companies are deliberately exploiting the rules to confuse parents and that the loopholes needed to be closed to ensure that parents make decisions on sound objective information not on company marketing strategies.
Esther de Lange (Netherlands PPE) responded asking “how stupid do you think european women are?” saying that infant formulas carry a GIGANTIC No 1 on the label and a GIGANTIC NO 2 on the Follow on formulas. Asa Westlund (Sweden S&D) stepped in to say that although she breastfed her children, she also used formula and herself bought the wrong product because the packaging was so similar. (In the UK, companies do not use No. 2 to signify follow-on formula, but for infant formula for so-called hungrier babies, with No. 3 appearing on the formula for use from 6 months, demonstrating the inconsistency and cross-promotional aspects of the labelling strategy.)
Interestingly, when initially speaking for the European People’s Party, Esther de Lange admitted that the marketing of milks for older babies is confusing saying: ” There are new foods coming on to the market, follow-on milks for infants aged one to three years. Consumers in Europe are confused. Is this an essential part of an infants diet and therefore has to be covered by essential legislation or is it just long life milk enriched with vitamins? Or is it even bad for children because it has this very sweet vanilla taste and will mean that children will continue to want that sweetness throughout their lives. We need to look into this and look to EFSA because all parents will be glad to have some clarity.”
Frederique Ries (ALDE Belgium), Rapporteur of the Report, said while she had some sympathy for the new amendments, she did not want to upset the consensus that was achieved when her report was adopted in the Environment Committee in 29th April.
For an example of the SMA Roadshow buses see: Wyeth’s SMA Baby Know-How roadshows break marketing rules
For further information contact Patti Rundall on 07786 523493 or Mike Brady on 07986 736179.