Take action to strengthen EU baby milk regulations

EU Platform for Action launched today acknowledges that breastfeeding lowers the risk of obesity

15 March 2005

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) [i] has accepted an invitation from the European Commission to join the European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health being launched in Brussels today [ii]. The Platform, lays down a challenge to industry and NGOs to enter into commitments to halt the obesity epidemic sweeping across Europe.

The invitation to IBFAN is seen as an acknowledgement by the Commission of the importance of breastfeeding in this venture.[iii] Research continues to mount about the risks of artificial infant feeding to both short and long term health and its role in the rise of obesity. A seven-year study, just completed by the WHO, shows that babies exclusively breastfed for six months are healthier and leaner than artificially fed babies. [iv] [v]

Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, IBFAN’s UK member, says:

“We offer our support to this important initiative and look forward to contributing to its aim. We are especially encouraged that the Commission has promised to examine all its policies for ‘obesity proofing’ and hope that this will involve taking a closer look at the Commission’s own proposals on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. At present these put infant health at risk and fly in the face of the aims of this Initiative and the wishes of Member States, European Parliamentarians and the scientific community.” [vi]

IBFAN, with over two decades of experience in monitoring marketing activities under various forms of voluntary codes and national legislation, will be calling for clear accountability procedures and legally binding controls on marketing that is harmful to infants and children. [vii] [viii] The profits of Nestlé, a company that dominates the world’s infant food and confectionary market, are at risk if regulations are brought in which curb promotion of unhealthy foods.[ix]

In a previous Commission sponsored project, IBFAN groups in six European countries, looked at the commercial sponsorship of education materials in schools, a practice which is often used by companies as evidence of corporate social responsibility, but which blurs the boundaries between advertising, marketing and education. [x] On the 9th March, the Boston Herald, reported on Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO of Nestle S.A, giving a message to business leaders summarised as “companies should only pursue charitable endeavors with an underlying intention of making money for investors.”

For more information contact: Patti Rundall: 07786 523493


[i] There are 200 IBFAN groups in over 100 countries and one in every EU country. IBFAN aims to protect infant health, save lives and to end the avoidable suffering caused by inappropriate infant feeding, by strengthening independent, transparent and effective marketing controls.

[ii] http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph_determinants/life_style/nutrition/platform/launch_en.htm

[iii] The 2002 World Health Assembly Resolution (WHA 55.25), which all EU Member States endorsed, called on all Governments to: “.. strengthen activities and develop new approaches to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for six months as a global public health recommendation, taking into account the findings of the WHO expert consultation on optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding, and to provide safe and appropriate complementary foods, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.” Also see: The Blueprint for Action on the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding in Europe

[iv] Bottle feeding increases mortality rates, increases rates for illnesses such as infectious diseases, chronic diseases and auto-immune diseases, offers less than optimal development and growth, lowers cognitive and visual development and increases the risk of obesity. In the global context, breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding help fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and have the potential to reduce under-5 mortality by 19%.

Armstrong J. Reilly J.J. Child Health Information ISD (2002) Breast feeding and lowering the risk of childhood obesity. Lancet: 359 :2003-04 ; Arenz S, Ruckerl R, Koletzko B, von KR. Breast-feeding and childhood obesity–a systematic review. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004; 28(10):1247-1256. Kramer MS, Guo T, Platt RW, Vanilovich I, Sevkovskaya Z, Dzikovich I et al. Feeding effects on growth during infancy. J Pediatr 2004; 145(5):600-605. Ref s: Jones G et al. (2003) How many child deaths can we prevent this year? The Lancet, no 362, 65-71.)

[v] <The WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study (MGRS) : rationale, Planning and Implementation, Food and Nutrition Bulletin, Volume 25, Number 1, March 2005. Suppl1
Press cuttings: http://news.bbc.couk/2/hi/health/4236229.stm http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1406303,00.html.

[vi] http://archive.babymilkaction.org/press/press7march05.html

[vii] Using International Tools to stop corporate malpractice – does it work? IBFAN’s report of Case Studies commissioned in seven countries, examines the impact of voluntary codes and regulations on marketing NGO activities. http://www.ibfan.org/english/news/briefing/checksandbalances.html

[ix] Report by investment bank, UBS Warburg, 2002 estimated that 46% of Nestlé’s income comes from ‘less healthy’ foods, (The Guardian, 27 December 2002 http://www.guardian.co.uk/food/Story/0,2763,865377,00.html

[x] All EU Member States have obligations under the WHO Global Strategies on Infant and Young Child Feeding and Diet and Physical Activity. All Member States have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child which in Art. 24 calls on them “to ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, etc”.


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