Baby Milk Action press release 18 February 2016

botswanagazette160216Nestle today launched its latest full-year results, reporting 4.2% organic growth, stating: “Infant formula including growing-up milks, delivered good growth”. This growth comes from systematic violations of baby milk marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly, according to the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), which monitors company policies and practices around the world. This same week, the Botswana Gazette reported that police are filing charges against Nestle for breaking national marketing regulations in its targeting of health workers.

Tesco tries to shift Nestle formula in breach of marketing regulations

Baby Milk Action/IBFAN-UK is highlighting this week that Tesco and other retailers are running special clearance displays of Nestle’s SMA infant formula as the company is launching a “new improved” version. According to Nestle, babies fed on the product currently under promotion have “protein intake in excess of requirements”.

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

“In January Nestle launched ‘new improved’ SMA infant formula having reduced the protein level, which it says was in excess of requirements. Now we see retailers breaking the law to clear stocks off their shelves. People are reporting many cases of these practices across the country. From past experience we know the companies will get away with breaking the law – and repeating the same behaviour in future – because the responsible Trading Standards authorities do not bring prosecutions as a matter of policy. The law has to be enforced and companies fined or they will continue to treat the public and enforcement officers with contempt.”

Below, a Nestle marketing email sent to health workers.

Nestle email sent 29 January 2016 indicating its SMA formula composition was incorrect for optimum infant growth - spun as a relaunch of a new "closer to breastmilk" range.

Nestle claims its SMA PRO infant formula has “protein profile closer to breast milk”.

It makes no apology for implying the previous product was also comparable to breastmilk – it just repeats the same strategy.

The recent Lancet Breastfeeding Series refers to new discoveries being made about breastmilk – such as its role in gene expression – so it can be expected that Nestle will use the strategy of launching “new improved” formulas that are “closer to breastmilk” for decades to come (Nestle is currently investing heavily in epigentics research).

Tesco is trying to clear existing stocks of Nestle SMA infant formula with point-of-sale promotions that violate the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007). Section 23 states that there should be no special displays, price reductions or “any other promotional activity to induce the sale of an infant formula”.

tescosmadover180216cropAbove, Nestle SMA infant formula reduced to clear in Tesco Dover, 18 February 2016).

Below, Nestle SMA “Extra Hungry” Infant Milk (with a meaningless promotional name) being promoted in Tesco Dingwall and Tesco Winchester on 15 February.

tescosmadingwall150216 tescosmawinchester150216

In some examples, it seems that infant formula may have been placed in “clearance” sections without the price being reduced, so the promotion is also misleading to customers who will understand they are receiving a discount. (The example below is from Tesco Bexhill, 18 February).


Sainsbury’s is also discounting Nestle’s SMA infant formula to clear stock. The example below from Bradford shows Sainbury’s has added stickers reducing the £3.00 price to £1.99.


Tesco was also using stickers on Nestle’s SMA infant formula in High Wycombe on 15 February.


Baby Milk Action welcomes reports and photos of violations from the public. These can be added to this post or sent via Baby Milk Action’s Facebook page. The Baby Feeding Law Group website  explains how to report violations to Trading Standards.

Instead of clamping down, the Department of Health proposes decriminalising some aggressive marketing practices

International minimum standards ban the promotion of all breastmilk substitutes, including follow-on milks and so-called growing-up milks. However, current UK Regulations only prohibit the promotion of infant formula, though they do have provisions intending to stop cross-promotion through similar branding and labelling being used on other products.

Nestle labels for SMA infant formula, follow-on formula and so-called growing-up milks are virtually identical, as can be seen above. They do not comply with the law. Guidance Notes from the Department of Health state how this should be interpreted, including the requirement that the term “Infant Milk” or “Follow-on Milk” should be at least as big as the brand name, which is clearly not the case.

Idealising images are also prohibited. The heart logo and stylised breastfeeding mother Nestle uses come within this description.

Rather than enforcing these requirements, the Department of Health is currently proposing decriminalising these practices and instead sending companies “Improvement Notices”.

Baby Milk Action suggests a softly-softly approach has already been shown to be ineffective, both with regards to Nestle’s labelling and Tesco’s infant formula promotions.

Companies repeatedly break the law – sanctions must be applied argue campaigners

Tesco catalogue 2009Baby Milk Action has highlighted and reported numerous examples of Tesco breaking the law, but Trading Standards have not brought prosecutions. The example left shows SMA being promoted as having the “healthiest nutrients” in a Tesco publication in 2009 – Tesco apologised, but did not remove the publication and Trading Standards levied no sanctions.

Tesco promoted SMA infant formula as part of a price drop campaign in 2011 (below left) and 2015 (below right). As before, it apologised and said there would be no repeat.

Tesco illegal infant formula promotionTesco promotion of Nestle SMA infant formula

In the 2015 example, the same point-of-sale promotional materials were being put up weeks after it gave this commitment.

Baby Milk Action runs a “no promotion – cheaper formula” campaign, calling for permanent price cuts, not promotional ones. Formula is heavily promoted through advertising and targeting of health workers and parents in breach of marketing rules, the cost of which goes onto formula.

Campaigners call on companies to meet their obligations and run shaming campaigns. Nestle, the largest company (controlling about 29% of the global baby milk market) is also the target of the Nestle boycott, which forces some changes in Nestle marketing policies and practices.

Government proposes banning support for boycotts in new contracts

avaazboycottrightscampaignThis  week, the Government is proposing to prohibit councils, universities and charities that receive government funds from supporting boycotts.

AVAAZ has launched an online petition campaign (left) against the proposed ban.

Councils can currently support the Nestle boycott, while complying with “best value” regulations.

Most mothers do not breastfeed as long as they want – policy failures need addressing

Last month the Lancet Breastfeeding Series highlighted that the UK has the worst breastfeeding rates in the world at 12 months of age. Many health worker organisations and mother support groups (as well as Baby Milk Action) signed an open letter calling for the Government to implement the measures in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child feeding, which it has repeatedly endorsed, so that all mother can breastfeed as long as they wish.

Breastfeeding initiation rates are high (81% in the National Breastfeeding Survey 2010), but quickly decline. The majority of mothers interviewed said they did not breastfeed as long as they wished. The letter sets out the many ways Government has gone backwards in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. This includes cancelling the National Breastfeeding Survey that was scheduled to take place in 2015, and would have shown the impact of past policy decisions. Conducting such surveys fulfills one aspect of the Global Strategy.

Adverse reactions reported with Nestle’s new SMA PRO infant formula

There have been anecdotal reports of adverse reactions of babies fed on the newly formulated SMA PRO. The website reports (8 February 2016):

“Jo, whose nineteen-day-old baby had been drinking the First Infant milk from birth, told us: ‘He was getting into a fantastic night-time routine. Then, without any warning at all, Nestlé changed the formula of their milk. I now have a very cranky baby who is obviously very uncomfortable.'” 

A Freedom of Information request to the Food and Drug Administration in the US by the Cornucopia Institute found similar reactions logged in some babies fed on formula with Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (such as DHA and ARA), which it was suggested may be linked to the production process. See our archive website:

The Department of Health said at that time it would log reports of adverse reactions in the UK. If you are using SMA PRO – or any other formula – and experience adverse reactions please contact Baby Milk Action after discussing with your health worker.

The above website also points out that the size of Nestle’s SMA infant formula has been reduced in size from 900g to 800g, but the price remains the same.

For further information contact Mike Brady at

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    One thought on “As Nestle boasts of infant formula sales growth, Botswana police file charges over aggressive marketing, while Tesco puts formula with “excessive protein” on clearance sale in breach of UK law

    • 20/07/2016 at 4:23 pm

      I complained recently to a member of staff at our local Co-op about a clearance label on formula. There was no price discount. She claimed it was because they are not going to stock it anymore but removed the label anyway. (I posted to Baby Milk Action Facebook page about it at the time).

      I noticed a couple of days ago the clearance label had returned.


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