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Parliamentary campaign launched to enforce infant formula marketing regulations

Press release 20 July 2007

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A Parliamentary campaign has been launched calling on the regulatory authorities to enforce infant formula labelling regulations on baby food companies that continue to flout the requirements introduced over 12 years ago. Lynne Jones, MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, tabled an Early Day Motion yesterday calling for offending products to be relabelled or removed from sale and for prosecutions to be brought for willful flouting of the regulations. The Food Standards Agency wrote to companies last year to remind them of the labelling provisions contained in the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995, but companies have both continued to sell formula that does not comply and to launch new labels that do not comply. Last month a Government Minister, responding to a question from Dr. Jones, said that authorities had been encouraged to enforce the legislation. However, no legal action has yet been taken.

Dr Lynne Jones MP said: "If companies do not follow the law, then the law has to be enforced."

The regulations set out that only 6 claims are permitted on infant formula labels, such as sucrose free or iron enriched. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) warned companies that only these claims may be used and examples of non-compliant claims were given, as follows: "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." Trading Standards officers have been encouraged to act with a guidance note being brought to their attention. However, formula with these claims remains on sale over 6 months later and new labels have been launched by the major manufacturers with similar claims and other idealizing text and images prohibited by the regulations.

According to a Government survey, 34% of mothers incorrectly believe that formula is the same, or almost the same, as breastmilk (ref: Myths stop mothers giving their babies the best start in life).

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

"It is a disgrace that companies have put illegal labels on the market for the past 12 years and got away with it. Worse still that having been reminded of the law's provisions by the Food Standards Agency, the major companies have shown their contempt by launching new labels that break those provisions. Legal action by Trading Standards officers is well overdue and we welcome the encouragement the Government has given them to enforce the legislation. It shouldn't be necessary for Parliament to campaign for a law to be enforced, but as there has been no legal action, we very much hope the initiative from Lynne Jones MP will have an effect and we call on all MPs to sign the EDM. The Government is currently conducting a revision of the law and we call on it to bring this weak law into line with international standards, close loopholes and ensure there are more effective enforcement mechanisms."

Labels launched since the FSA wrote to companies are shown below (for older labels still on sale, click here). The UK law is clear - claims are only allowed if on the permitted list.

Aptamil.

Claims not on permitted list :

"Immunofortis" (a made up word, implying it strengthens the immune system).

"Inspired by breastmilk."

Idealizing text:

"Milupa Aptamil First contains Immunofortis, a patented mix of prebiotics inspired by those found in breastmilk. Breastmilk strengthens a baby's natural immune system helping to prevent infections and allergies."

"Best infant milk".

Idealizing image:

Polar bear

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Wiltshire Trading Standards.

Aptamil 2007

Wyeth/SMA.

Claims not on permitted list:

"New improved protein balance."

"Easily digested."

Idealizing text:

"Love the milk you give."

"Gold."

Idealizing image:

New logo incorporates a breastfeeding mother now that the 'closer to breastmilk' slogan has been removed.

Mother's face.

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Buckinghamshire Trading Standards.

SMA 2007

Cow & Gate .

Claims not on permitted list :

"With prebiotic care."

Idealizing image:

Humanized bear image. (On the milk for older babies the bear is replaced by an almost identical baby).

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Wiltshire Trading Standards.

Cow & Gate 2007

(Photo also shows the old formula with a 'closer than ever to breastmilk' slogan).

Heinz/Farley's.

Claims not on permitted list:

"With omega-3 LCPs", "Nucleotides" (see note).

Idealizing text:

"Our most advanced formula ever."

Idealizing image:

Bear image.

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Hillingdon Environmental Health.

 

 

 

Farley's 2007

Hansard (20 June 2007) records the Parliamentary Question put by Lynne Jones MP and the response from the then Minister for Public Health, Caroline Flint MP.

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action she is taking to encourage relevant authorities to prosecute companies that continue to make claims on infant formula labels and promotional material for baby milk which are non-compliant with current legislation. [143720]

Caroline Flint: The local authorities coordinators of regulatory services issued updated guidance in late 2006 to clarify the types of claims about infant formula that are prohibited. All local authority enforcement offices have been made aware of the new guidance and encouraged to enforce the United Kingdom legislation to ensure companies comply with the rules on claims.

Early Day Motion 1963, entitled "Local Authority Enforcement of Labelling Requirements of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995" was tabled at the close of business yesterday. It states:

That this House notes that baby food companies were reminded in 2006 by the Food Standards Agency of the labelling requirements of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 and, that according to the Minister for Public Health in the Answer of 20th June 2007, Official Report, column 1919W, on infant foods: labelling, local authority enforcement officers have been encouraged to enforce the legislation; and therefore calls on the local authorities in areas Wyeth/SMA, Heinz/Farley's, Aptamil, Cow and Gate, Hipp and all other companies continuing to market infant formula with claims, idealising text and images prohibited by the current legislation are to order immediately the re-labelling or removal of offending products and to bring prosecutions for the wilful contempt these companies have shown for the legislation.

Claims made by the companies and described by them as proven sometimes do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, LCPs added to formula are claimed to benefit brain and eye development, but an authoritative review by the Cochrane Library found this not to be substantiated by research. Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority told Cow & Gate to stop making blanket claims about prebiotics strengthening the immune system as the company was unable to provide substantiating evidence.

The Baby Feeding Law Group, 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 is calling for the Government to revise the law so that those few claims that are permitted must not be used for promotional purposes, but should be points of information with the list of ingredients on the back of the label. In other words, no banners and flashes.

The advertising provisions of the legislation reference the conditions for labels and so any advertisements with non-compliant claims are also illegal. In 2003 Birmingham Trading Standards brought a successful prosecution against Wyeth/SMA for illegal advertising of infant formula. The Judge said Wyeth was guilty of a 'cynical and deliberate breach of the regulations'. Trading Standards officers have also stopped repeated illegal promotion of infant formula in supermarkets, but no prosecutions have yet been brought.

For further information contact: Mike Brady on 07986 736179 or using mikebrady(at)babymilkaction.org

Notes for editors

  1. Section 13 (3) of the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 states:"The labelling of an infant formula shall include a claim concerning the composition of the product only when— (a) the claim is listed in column 1 of Schedule 4, and is expressed in the terms there set out ; and (b) the condition specified in column 2 of that Schedule in relation to the relevant claim made in column 1 is satisfied." The LACORS guidance referred to by the Minister for Public Health makes it explicit that only 6 claims are permitted on labels and 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 76%, meaning 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. In the UK few infants are breastfed at 6 months. Government figures show just 48% are breastfed at 6 WEEKS.

  4. 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.

  5. 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. A consultation on revising the law has been launched.

  6. The home authority for Wyeth/SMA has apparently indicated it will not consider taking action on the labels until the revised law has been introduced and guidelines issued, which may not be until 2010, based on the time it took for the guidelines for the 1995 legislation to be finalised. As formula has a shelf life of up to 2 years, illegal labels may remain on the shelves until 2012 if the authority does not take action to enforce the existing law. It is disingenuous to say it is necessary to wait for the new law, as the labels were produced under the present law, which remains in force today. The relevant section on labelling in the proposed revised legislation put out for consultation is EXACTLY the same as the current legislation. See the Campaign and Networking Coordinator's blog for full details.

  7. A new EU Directive will allow the inclusion of claims that formula contains LCPs and nucleotides and Heinz/Farley's appears to be pre-empting this (the other illegal claims referred to above are not legitimised by the EU Directive). It has no grounds for doing so as the current law does not permit such claims. The UK Government is presently consulting on how to implement the Directive in the UK and the Baby Feeding Law Group is suggesting the new law should state permitted claims should not be used for promotion, but restricted to points of information alongside the list of ingredients. Heinz is perhaps attempting to make its use of claims in promotional banners a reality to try to undermine the consultation process.

Older labels with non-compliant claims over which action has never been taken and which are still on sale:

Aptamil.

Claims not on permitted list:

"Closest to breastmilk"

"Prebiotics support natural defences"

Idealizing text:

"Prebiotics are naturally found in breastmilk. Prebiotics encourage the growth of friendly bacteria. Friendly bacteria are an integral part of natural defences The prebiotics in Milupa Aptamil First support your baby’s natural defences. Milupa Aptamil First contains prebiotics, 2 LCPs, nucleotide and antioxidants which makes it the closest to breastmilk. This can mean your baby will have softer stools, more like a breastfed baby."

Idealizing image:

Teddy bear (on the follow-on milk - Aptamil 3 - this is replaced by an almost identical image off an infant).

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Wiltshire Trading Standards.

Milupa Aptamil

Cow & Gate.

Claims not on permitted list:

"Closer than ever to breastmilk"

"Prebiotics support natural defences"

Idealizing image:

"Prebiotics help support your baby’s natural defences. A unique fat blend with LCPs and GLA for brain and eye development. Nucleotides play a role in supporting the immune system 8-carotene and selenium which help with the development of the immune system."

Teddy bear (on the follow-on milk - Cow & Gate 3 - this is replaced by an image of infants).

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Wiltshire Trading Standards.

Cow & Gate 2006

Wyeth/SMA.

Claims not on permitted list:

"Now even closer to breastmilk"

"Helps brain & eye development. Helps in the development of your baby’s immune system and natural defences. Helps in the development of your baby’s skin and body tissue. Easily digested."

Idealizing image:

Cartoon duck.

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Buckinghamshire Trading Standards.

SMA 2006

Heinz/Farley's.

Claims not on permitted list:

"Closer than ever to breastmilk"

Idealizing text:

"Special blend of nutrients fund naturally in breastmilk."

Idealizing image:

Bear image.

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Hillingdon Environmental Health.

 

 

 

Farley's old 2007

Hipp.

Claims not on permitted list:

"Formulated to be nutritionally close to breastmilk."

Idealizing image:

Elephant image.

Home authority responsible for enforcing the law:

Hipp is based at New Greenham Park, Berkshire.

 

 

 

Hipp 2006

 

 

 

 

 

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