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Interference in public health policy: examples of how the baby food industry uses tobacco industry tactics

  • Sabrina Ionata Granheim Independent consultant on nutrition
  • Katrin Engelhardt Independent Public Health Nutritionist
  • Patti Rundall Policy Director, IBFAN Global Advocacy Baby Milk Action/IBFAN UK
  • Stella Bialous Associate Professor in Residence Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF School of Nursing, San Francisco
  • Alessandro Iellamo Independent Consultant on Infant and Young Child Feeding
  • Barrie Margetts Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine , Univesity of Southampton


Despite countries’ commitments to improve nutrition, starting with the protection of breastfeeding, aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes continues to promote their indiscriminate use. The baby food industry appears to use similar interference tactics as the tobacco industry to influence public health, promote their products and expand their markets.

Learning from the tobacco experience, this paper assesses whether the baby food industry uses any of the six tobacco industry interference tactics recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and summarizes examples of documented evidence.

We conclude that the baby food industry uses all six tactics: (1) manoeuvring to hijack the political and legislative process; (2) exaggerating economic importance of the industry; (3) manipulating public opinion to gain appearance of respectability; (4) fabricating support through front groups; (5) discrediting proven science; and (6) intimidating governments with litigation. There is abundant anecdotal evidence. Published evidence is limited and varies by tactic. Examples of interference are provided for the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Turkey, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Mexico and the United Kingdom, and most for Tactic 3.

Interference in public health policies shows commonalities between the two industries. The tobacco control movement offers a useful framework for classifying and addressing interference with public policy by the baby food industry. Revealing the depth and extent of interference used by the baby food industry is critical if countries are to counter interference and implement commitments to improve nutrition.

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