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Will Gordon Brown protect infants and mothers?

Press release 27 June 2007

With Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister, Baby Milk Action is questioning whether his Government will protect for infants and mothers by reforming a law that was opposed by Tony Blair 12 years ago.

Tony Blair led the opposition to the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995 [Note 1] before he became Prime Minister as they fail to prohibit the advertising of breastmilk substitutes and omit many other provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly [Note 2]. When the Labour Party won the 1997 General Election and formed the government, it was expected that it would bring the law into line with the Code and Resolutions, yet this has still not been done. Changes were made to Government recommendations on breastfeeding, but rules on marketing have stayed much the same.  

The Food Standards Agency will soon be launching a consultation on a revision of the UK regulations and leading health and consumer bodies are urging the Government to  implement the World Health Assembly recommendations which the UK has repeatedly endorsed since 1981.

Glenys Kinnock MEP, a long-time campaigner on these issues, has written to Gordon Brown calling for action.

Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action who received an OBE in the 2000 New Year’s honours list for services to infant nutrition, said:

“It would be fantastic if Gordon Brown made the implementation of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements one of his first acts as Prime Minister. There is no reason – apart from commercial ones – why the Government cannot do this. Indeed the EU Directive and the Treaty of Rome make specific provision for such action if it can be shown to be in the interest of Public Health [Note 3]. Since our breastfeeding duration rates are just about the worst in Europe this should be an open and shut case.  The health and social costs are evident  – but the  environmental costs must also be weighed. There is no food more local and more environmentally friendly than breastfeeding.” [Note 4]

It is 26 years since the UK Government first endorsed the International Code at the World Health Assembly. But typically on its return home it capitulated to the companies and ever since has implemented a succession of weak proposals full of loopholes.   This has meant that UK parents have been bombarded with misleading commercial promotion [Note 5] which has glossed over the risks of artificial feeding. This has also affected our policy makers  and weakened their resolve to take the necessary action.  According to a government survey one third of British mothers (34%) actually believe that  infant formula is the same or almost the same as  breastfeeding [Note 6]  And despite  improved hospital practices and better maternity leave the vast majority of mothers (73%)  stop breastfeeding long before they intended to and long before they have to return to work [Note 7] 53% o f those  giving up breastfeeding between 2 and 6 weeks did so because they believed they had insufficient milk – a false notion which the baby food industry has fuelled with its claims such as  ‘milk for hungry babies.’ [7a]

When the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations were debated in 1995, Tony Blair said:

“That this House is alarmed at the decision taken recently by Health Ministers to put commercial interests before infant health when it refused to ban the advertising of infant formula in the United Kingdom; is aware that such a decision is contrary to all its statements in support of an advertisement ban over the last 13 years, and contradicts also the advice given to it from major health bodies including the British Medical Association, the British Paediatric Association, and the Royal College of Midwives; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to rethink its approach instead of simply responding to UK baby milk companies’ promotions.”  

In 2002 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the UK Government to implement the International Code and later this year the UK will have to report back on its progress. In the 2004 White Paper, Choosing Health, Making healthier Choices Easier, the Government gave an undertaking to restrict advertising and promotion of infant formula [Note 8]. The Public Health Minister, Caroline Flint MP, said last week (21 June) that Trading Standards officers have been encouraged to take action to enforce existing legislation as illegal claims that have been placed on the market during the past 12 years continue to be used despite the Food Standards Agency warning companies at the end of 2006 to stop using them.

The Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of 20 UK health worker and mother-support organisations convened by Baby Milk Action, is calling on the Government to implement the Code and Resolutions fully in UK legislation [Note 9].

A broader grouping known as the Breastfeeding Manifesto coalition is also calling for the Code and Resolutions to be implemented and other measures to promote and support breastfeeding [Note 10]

For further information contact Patti Rundall on 07786 523493 or Mike Brady on 07986 736179.

Notes:

  1. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1995/Uksi_19950077_en_1.htm

  2. http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=51&iui=1

  3. Treaty of Rome Article 36. Article 100a  (4.)  If, after the adoption of a harmonisation measure by the Council acting by a qualified majority, a Member State deems it necessary to apply national provisions on grounds of major needs referred to in Article 36 [protection of health] or relating to protection of the environment or the working environment, it shall notify the Commission of these provisions.

  4. A survey of ‘any breastfeeding’ at 6 months in 17 European Countries, the UK is position 16th.  Promotion of Breastfeeding in Europe, a Blueprint for Action. EU Project Contract N. SPC 2002359

  5. Hard Sell Formula: http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press22feb07.html           
    Risks of Formua Feeding  a brief annotated Bibliography,  INFACT Canada

  6. http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press12march07.html In 2005 two surveys, one by the Department of Health and one by UNICEF and the National childbirth Trust, found that the  claims used by the baby food companies 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.

  7. Infant feeding Survey 2005  ONS  7a Table 6.7  

  8. Choosing Health, Chapter 3  paras 38,39 Page 53

  9. http://www.babyfeedinglawgroup.org.uk/

  10. http://www.breastfeedingmanifesto.org.uk/

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