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Campaigners claim victory as crackdown on ‘closer to breastmilk’ infant formula promotions is announced in the UK

Press release 12 March 2007

Media watch: Daily Mail 12 March 2007 (see note), Just Food 12 March 2007 (free subscription) , NutraIngredients.com, Kiddicare, Dairy Reporter
Campaign Coordinator's blog and podcast on this news.

New guidance to Trading Standards officers informing them that health claims widely used to promote infant formula are ‘non-compliant’ with legislation are being claimed as a major step forward to protect infant health and a mother’s right to independent information. It has also been spelt out to companies that they can no longer claim that their formulas help a child’s natural immune system or that additives such as Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPs) are important for development, a claim that an independent review of research finds is not substantiated.

Companies appear to have accepted they must re-design their labels and scrap promotional campaigns with immediate effect. Some of the same companies, however, have successfully blocked similar prohibitions recently introduced in the Philippines (click here for details).

Illegal claims on these packs will no longer be tolerated. Including:

'Now even closer to breast milk',
'Closer than ever to breastmilk',
'Prebiotics support natural defences',
'Helps brain and eye development'

Click images for hi-resolution versions.

SMA illegal claims

 

Cow & Gate illegal claims

UK Trading Standards were recently informed by LACORS (Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services) of an update to guidance first issued in 1997 following the adoption of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995. The law contains an annex of claims such as ‘iron enriched’ that are permitted on the labels of infant formula. The Law clearly states that ONLY these claims may be made. However, companies ignored this Annex and claimed that the Law lacked clarity and Trading Standards did nothing to stop the profusion of illegal claims until now.

Baby Milk Action and partners in the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG – consisting of all major UK health professional and mother support groups) have been monitoring company practices since 1997 and calling for the authorities to prosecute companies guilty of illegal promotion. Last month it launched an exposé, Hard Sell Formula, in support of its call for the law to be strengthened and for the promotion of follow-on milks to be stopped. In response to the BFLG campaign, the Government gave a commitment in its 2004 public health white paper, Choosing Health, to strengthen the law. In 2005 two surveys, one by the Department of Health and one by UNICEF and the National childbirth Trust, found that the claims had influenced parents perception and that over one third of British mothers (34%) believed that infant formula is the same or almost the same as breastfeeding.

Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, said:

“This is a major, but long overdue, victory for infant health which hopefully will protect all mothers and babies.  In order to make wise decisions about infant feeding parents need accurate and independent information, not commercial promotion.

"A health or nutrition claim on any breastmilk substitute is inappropriate, highly promotional and misleading. By highlighting one or other ingredient and failing to warn of the risks of artificial feeding -  the formulas – which in reality can never compare with human breastmilk - appear to have a health advantage over breastfeeding - which is never promoted in the same way.  

"If a particular formula contains a new ingredient which has been proven - through independently funded and reviewed research - to be safe and useful  then it should be a legal requirement in all formulas. All babies who are not breastfed should have the highest quality substitute.  The Government must make sure that these misleading claims are stopped – not just on infant formula but on follow-on formulas and advertising too.”

Further information, contact Baby Milk Action on 01223 464420 or Mike Brady on 07986 736170 or Patti Rundall on 07786523493
Email: mikebrady((AT))babymilkaction.org or
Belinda Phipps, National Childbirth Trust on 07976272305.

Notes for editors

  1. The LACORS new guidance makes it explicit that the ban on health claims includes the following widely used examples: Omega 3 LCPs for development. Nucleotides help growth and the immune system. Beta-carotene helps the immune system, Prebiotics supporting baby's natural defences, Closer than ever to breast milk.

  2. The UK Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 are a partial implementation of the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted in 1981 with the support of the UK. The Assembly regularly calls for governments to take action to implement the Code and subsequent Resolutions. In 2005, after evidence was presented by Baby Milk Action and partners, the Assembly said in Resolution 58.32 that it was: “Concerned that nutrition and health claims may be used to promote breast-milk substitutes as superior to breastfeeding”.

  3. The UK has breastfeeding rates amongst the lowest in the industrialised world. Despite government commitments to improve breastfeeding rates there has been little change, with initiation rates of just 71%, meaning over a quarter of infants receive no breastmilk at all. Breastfeeding rates then decline rapidly as the promotion exposed in Baby Milk Action’s recently launched Hard Sell Formula pamphlet undermines breastfeeding and encourages mothers to use formula (available at www.babymilkaction.org). In the UK few infants are breastfed at 6 months. Government figures show just 42% are breastfed at 6 WEEKS.

  4. In its Public Health White Paper, Choosing Health, the Government stated: “Further action will include the review of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (1995) with a view to further restrict the advertising of infant formula. We will continue to press for amendments to the EU Directive on infant formula and follow-on formula.” While the Government did push for changes to the EU Directive, its efforts largely failed. However, legal experts agree that the Directive does not prevent the Government taking action to protect health by introducing World Health Assembly marketing requirements in UK law.

  5. A Department of Health survey in 2004 found that 34% of mothers incorrectly believed that modern infant formula milks are very similar or the same as breast milk (see ‘Myths stop women giving babies the best start in life)

  6. The UK Baby Feeding Law Group is an adhoc group of health professional and lay organizations working to bring UK and EU legislation into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions. Its members are: The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, the Association of Radical Midwives, Baby Milk Action, the Breastfeeding Network, the Food Commission, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors’ Association, Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, La Leche League (GB), Little Angels, Midwives Information and Resource Service, the National Childbirth Trust, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative.

  7. The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines has taken Department of Health there to the Supreme Court, claiming it did not have the right to introduce regulations containing similar bans to the new UK guidance and other provisions (click here for details).

  8. We have received a couple of emails regarding the Daily Mail article criticising Baby Milk Action for being anti-formula. We are not anti-formula and the quote provided to the Daily Mail does not suggest we are. We do not take the line suggested in the article that infant formula is not a 'valid alternative' to breastmilk. Infant formula manufactured in accordance with Codex standards is a valid alternative to breastmilk and comes in the ideal scheme of things after breastfeeding, feeding with expressed mother's milk and donor milk. Health and nutrition claims for ingredients in breastmilk substitutes are invariably based on company – sponsored research which is often not independently and systematically reviewed before being placed on the market. The studies carried out by companies often don't have an exclusively-breastfed control so the results only compare one product over another. When the results of these studies are translated into a claim it is invariably promotional and conveys the impression that the product is actually better, the same or almost the same as breastfeeding. The properties of breastmilk are still being discovered and technology can only synthesize a limited number of ingredients similar to those known to be in breastmilk. Ingredients do not necessarily function in the same way in a processed formula as they do in living breastmilk. Our view is that only the highest quality substitutes should be placed on the market. It is nothing but unethical to operate a double standard. So if an ingredient has been proven – through independently funded and reviewed research - to be safe and essential for infant health it should be a requirement for all formulas and not used as a promotional claim. Certainly formula should be available for those cases when it is necessary, but it should not be marketed in ways that undermine breastfeeding or mislead mothers. A mother can only make an informed decision about how she will feed her baby if she has sufficient accurate and independent information and the necessary support. For further information see the Your Questions Answered section.
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