The promotion of infant formula or other breast milk substitutes is considered dangerous and unethical by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations, and other major public health organizations. According to the WHO’s FAQs on the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code):
The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding rank among the most effective interventions to improve child survival. It is estimated that high coverage of optimal breastfeeding practices could avert 13% of the 10.6 million deaths of children under five years occurring globally every year. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.
No one disputes the fact that formula and bottles should exist. However, the WHO, breastfeeding and health advocacy organizations, along with many governments, agree that they should not be marketed to expectant mothers, new mothers and health professionals. People should be able to access these products when they are needed, but should not be faced with deceptive messages and imagery that suggest that a bottle is the standard way to feed a baby or that formula is as good as breastmilk.
Nestlé Continues To Ignore WHO Code
Nestlé, the largest manufacturer of infant formula in the world, is also well known by organizations that monitor compliance with the WHO Code as being the most egregious violator of the rules.
On its website, Nestlé claims that it was “the first company to implement the Code across its entire operations in developing countries, through the Nestlé Instructions on the implementation of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.” However, despite this, numerous violations of the WHO Code are found every year in both developing and developed countries.
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) works with agencies in each country around the world to monitor the promotion of infant formula and breastmilk substitutes. In its 2010 report “Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2010″, IBFAN cites 134 breaches of the WHO Code by Nestlé. However, according to Reuters, a Nestlé spokesperson feels that only four of the allegations were worth investigating. In other words, Nestlé is opting to ignore 97% of the documented violations of the WHO Code.
New Formula Marketing Gimmicks
On top of its refusal to address 97% of the WHO Code violations, Nestlé is also continuing to invent new formula marketing gimmicks. This week it announced the launch of the BabyNes machine, which looks like and works in a similar fashion to coffee machines like the Keurig or Tassimo.
The launch of this machine raises numerous concerns:
- Cost: Formula feeding is expensive enough as it is. According to the kellymom.com calculator, one day of formula feeding can cost between $1.47 and $6.51, depending on choice of brand, format (powder versus liquid), and volume purchased (single serving versus large container of powder). With the BabyNes machine, for an infant taking 8 bottles per day, it would cost $2.38 per bottle or $19.04 per day for the infant formula alone (cost translated into dollars from Swiss Franc pricing on BabyNes website). These costs for these formula pods are astronomical and far outpace the cost of even the most expensive organic formulas. The fancy machine to serve up this formula costs around $290.
- Environment: The environmental impact of using these pods is also significant. This is already an issue with coffee pods and adding infant formula pods on top of that just heaps on to the environmental disaster created by these convenience products.
- Fashion: Like the similar coffee machines, these BabyNes machines are visually attractive and may be seen as the next big fashionable item to have for baby, along with designer strollers and the like.
- Comparison to Breast Milk: Although Nestlé clearly indicates that breastfeeding is best on its BabyNes website, it also makes claims about the BabyNes that make it sound awfully close to what breastfeeding does. Calling it “the first comprehensive nutrition system for babies,” Nestlé touts benefits like adapting to baby’s changing nutritional needs, preparing formula at the right temperature and dosage, safe, convenient, hygienic, and so on — all things that a woman’s breasts, the true “first comprehensive nutrition system for babies” also do and do better.
So while Nestlé rakes in the profits and Swiss parents can make bottle feeding fashionable, these new fancy feeding machines are likely to soon be marketed around the world in contests and promotions all aimed at getting moms to switch to formula.
The lack of consequences for formula marketing, even in places where legal restrictions do exist, continues to threaten breastfeeding rates around the world, resulting in excessive costs to parents and unnecessary burdens on the health care system. Studies have shown that formula marketing does negatively impact breastfeeding rates, which can have dire health consequences. This is the reason that the WHO is so adamant that infant formula should be available, but not promoted or pushed on new parents.
Image credit: bradeyolin on flickr