WHO’s first Global Congress on the implementation of the International Code – baby feeding industry not invited.
20-22 June 2023, WHO HQ, Geneva, Switzerland.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) hosted the first Global Congress on the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes on 20-22 June 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. During the event, 400 delegates from around 130 countries discussed and shared knowledge and strategies to end the unethical marketing of breast-milk substitutes.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) in 1981 adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Forty-two years later, formula milk manufacturing companies continue to violate these established principles and place commercial interests before children’s and families’ health. Subsequent WHA resolutions have repeatedly called upon national governments to enact, monitor and enforce the provisions of the Code. The response to calls to action launched by WHO and UNICEF has been inadequate and further underscore the need for stronger government regulations.
“Over 70% of Member States have enacted legislation that puts in place at least some of the provisions of the Code,” said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition and Food Safety at WHO. “But industries are still expanding to push an ever-increasing range of formula milk products on families, using insidious tactics to access their networks and influence their choices. Parents have the right to impartial information on infant feeding, which is actively undermined by exploitative industry marketing.”
Great that WHO and UNICEF excluded commercial companies, much to the annoyance of the International Special Dietary Foods Industries ISDI who issued this Statement, parts of which were read out during the Congress. “… To examine the effectiveness of the implementation of the WHO Code, a holistic, multi-stakeholder approach is required to create an all-inclusive, supportive ecosystem to encourage breastfeeding and to improve nutritional outcomes for mothers, infants and young children.
There have been a number of new policy documents published and about the be launched. IBFAN is a member of the Global Breastfeeding Collective The GBC website has a Breastfeeding Advocacy Toolkit with resources, guidance notes, webinars and tools for reporting and monitoring. Here are some useful guides:
- WHO & UNICEF Information Note (2023): Clarification on sponsorship of health professional and scientific meetings by companies that market foods for infants and young children which provides WHO & UNICEF guidance for defining corporate sponsorship.
- UNICEF’s (2023) Guide to Protecting Infant and Young Child Nutrition from Industry Interference and Conflicts of Interest: A guide to understanding and combatting industry interference and conflicts of interest
- UNICEF’s (2023) What I Should Know About ‘the Code’: A guide to implementation, compliance and identifying violations
- UNICEF also shared some important and helpful Programme Guidance on Engaging with the Food and Beverage Industry (also attached).
- WHO Guideline on Policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing
Tigers – the true story of Syed Aamir Raza, the Nestlé whistle-blower – that illustrates why conflict of interest safeguards are so important, was screened at the end of Day 1
Excerpt from UNICEF_Webinar_1_Industry_Interference
7 Is any of this relevant to undernutrition and related policy-making?
UNICEF has long engaged with the salt industry, cereal flour industry and cooking oil industry as
key partners in implementing large-scale food fortification to tackle micronutrient deficiencies in children and women. But other food industry actors – such as manufacturers of ultra-processed foods, breastmilk substitutes (BMS), follow-on formula and growing-up milks – are also trying to gain influence by positioning themselves as partners in solving undernutrition through multi-stakeholder platforms and orgnaizations such as the SUN Business Network and GAIN. This is problematic because through these platforms and organizations, manufacturers position their products as part of the solution (e.g., fortified packaged noodles or cookies), and keep the focus on undernutrition and short-term, medicalized and product-based solutions to malnutrition rather than responding to all forms of malnutrition through regulations that ensure nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets. Furthermore, they gain a seat at the policy table and are then able to influence the policy debate not just for undernutrition, but all forms of malnutrition. Over the last decades, they have leveraged this influence to shift the focus of undernutrition policy away from conflicts of interest, and take advantage of multi-stakeholder platforms to further their interests.
These companies’ products are ultra-processed and can contribute to overweight and obesity (e.g., many growing-up milks have almost the same sugar content as soda). The increased availability of ultra-processed foods and beverages in settings with child malnutrition increasingly replaces traditional foods and as such decreases dietary diversity and micronutrient intake, which contributes both to undernutrition and overweight/obesity. Additionally, the promotion of BMS discourages breastfeeding – a life-saving practice with life-long positive health impacts for children, including reducing their risk of overweight and obesity.