Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Calling for restrictions on infant formula marketing

By To-wen Tseng. Original posted on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Blog.

Would baby formula ads contribute to a drop in breastfeeding rates?

Doctors in Australia think it would. And they are calling on the Australian federal government to ban the marketing of baby formula.

Australian Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash has decided to scrap APMAIF, an independent panel that aimed to ensure the proper use of breast milk substitutes. A spokesman for Nash said because of the rise of awareness, the drop in complaints, and the industry compliance, the independent panel is no longer required.

But doctors are afraid that there will be a drop in breastfeeding rates once manufactures are allowed to oversee their own marketing practices. Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) started a movement, calling to restrict the marketing of infant formula. RACP’s president of pediatric and child health division, Susan Moloney, said, “We’re very concerned that if there’s no independent oversight, then we need legislation to block advertising of infant formula.”

Without an independent panel to monitor complaints and advertising, the Infant Formula Council, which represents more than 95% of the infant formula industry in Australia, has offered to work with the government to help monitor manufacturers.

But Moloney said industry-led and funded oversight would be inappropriate because companies could act to protect their interests. “We need an impartial and independent body in place to monitor the marketing and complaints process for infant formula in Australia, guided and regulated by legislation that restricts public exposure to information that would undermine breastfeeding.”

Despite the current voluntary agreement prohibiting print and television advertising, she said tougher controls would prevent loopholes for companies to advertise in supermarket catalogues and pharmacies.

She said that there are always parents who need to formula feed their babies, but the community has to make sure that breastfeeding is most encouraged. “Breastfed infants have improved neurodevelopment outcomes and a lower incidence of infections, obesity, and diabetes.”

“We would like to see legislation that reflect the WHO’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which recommends restrictions on the marketing of substitutes to ensure that mothers are not encouraged to unnecessarily abandon breastfeeding.” said Moloney.

She said that a ban on marketing, free sampling, gifts to health workers and pharmacy, and supermarket promotion of formula for babies less than one year old would reflect the International Code of Marketing of Breastfeeding Substitutes. Since the international code was adopted by the WHO in 1981, 84 countries have enacted legislation implementing many or all of the provisions of the code.

In some other countries, infant formula marketing is contributing to the low-rate of breastfeeding.

According to CCTV (China Central Television), it is common for manufacturers in China to give gift and even cash to doctors and nurses in exchange for promoting infant formula in the hospital. “Certain hospitals are ‘occupied’ by certain manufactures. Babies born in these hospitals will only be formula fed,” reported CCTV. “In some hospitals, mothers there are not even allowed to breastfeed their new-borns during the entire hospital stay.” In China, less than 30% of new-borns are breastfed.

Moloey said, “I don’t think we’ve had a government brave enough to legislate to comply with WHO code,” even “it’s something easy and sends a strong message that breastfeeding is good for mothers, babies, and the community.”

Rachel Fuller, the CEO of Australian Breastfeeding Association, said that she would absolutely support implementing the WHO code in full, “It’s not about saying no to formula, but giving parents information without subjecting them to marketing hype.”

She said Australian breastfeeding rates were falling below the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommendations. Only 39% of babies were solely breastfed up to the age of three months.

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