McSpotlight on the
Baby Milk Industry
| Nestle | Wyeth | Cow&Gate | Milupa | Boots | Links |

"I saw mother after mother in the paediatric wards, head in hands, crying beside the cribs where their babies lay, malnourished, dehydrated, sick from Bottle Baby Disease. It doesn't need to happen. A decade ago we knew the truth about irresponsible marketing of infant formula. Allowing the companies to continue these practices is an inexcusable outrage of humanity, if not outright criminality."
Janice Mantell, Action for Corporate Accountability (USA)

Every 30 seconds, a baby dies from unsafe bottle feeding. Without breast feeding babies don't get the benefit of passive immunity normally passed on in the mothers' milk. The risk of contracting serious diseases from bottle feeding is therefore high, but it is further compounded by the fact that, in the Third World, many people don't have access to a clean water supply with which to make up the formula, and poverty can lead to mothers over-diluting the formula to make it go further. Waterborne diseases fed straight to vulnerable babies causes what is now a common condition in many parts of the world - diarrhoea, vomiting, respiratory infections, malnutrition, dehydration and commonly death - known as Bottle-Baby disease.

The companies know this happens. Concerns over 'bottle baby disease' in the Third World, and the aggressive promotional activities of the companies, led to the drawing up of the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes in 1981. At the World Health Assembly in the same year, 118 countries voted for this to become the new voluntary code of practice adopted as a minimum requirement for all countries.

After a long boycott campaign, Nestle and other companies eventually agreed to abide by the Code, and the boycott was called of in 1984. However reports have continued to come in from around the world that the Code is still being violated by baby milk companies, and Nestle in particular has become the focus of criticism being by far the largest supplier of baby milk to Third World countries. The boycott campaign was re-launched in 1988, and is now active in over 80 countries.

Today, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) groups continue to lobby for world-wide adoption of the code, and to monitor all companies producing breast milk substitutes.

Baby Milk Action (the group co-ordinating the Nestle boycott in the UK) claims that over 99% of mothers are able to breastfeed. The code exists to ensure that any woman who wishes to breastfeed will not be dissuaded by company promotions undermining the message that 'breast is best'.

  • Special - Baby Milk Powder scare
  • Nestle in the McSpotlight
    Nestle SA Avenue Nestle, CH Vevey, Switxerland

    Nestle holds about 50% of the world's breast milk substitute market and is being boycotted for continued breaches of the 1981 WHO Code regulating the marketing of breast milk substitutes.

    Nestle encourages bottle feeding primarily by either giving away free samples of baby milk to hospitals, or neglecting to collect payments. It has been criticised for misinforming mothers and health workers in promotional literature. Nestle implies that malnourished mothers, and mothers of twins and premature babies are unable to breastfeed, despite health organisations claims that there is no evidence to support this.

    Evidence of direct advertising to mothers has been found in over twenty countries such as South Africa and Thailand. Instructions and health warnings on packaging are often either absent, not prominently displayed or in an inappropriate language. All of these actions directly contravene the Code regulating the marketing of baby milk formulas.

    Nestle own nearly 50% of the cosmetics company L'Oreal. L'Oreal was subject to boycott calls from animal rights groups including PeTA because of its animal testing policy. Since then L'Oreal has claimed that it no longer tests finished products on animals. This statement is obviously intended to mislead since finished products do not require further testing and it implies that the ingredients are certainly still subject to tests. Some groups called off the boycott in response to L'Oreals' claims, however there are individuals and organisations who continue the boycott and L'Oreal continues to test on animals.

    Note: According to Baby Milk Action, the following Tesco own-brand breakfast cereals are manufactured by Nestle; Corn Flakes, Bran Flakes, Puffed Rice, Sultana Bran, Cocoa Puffs, Cocoa Flakes.

    See also.. A Formula for disaster by Ellen Sokol - Multinational Monitor, March 92

    Wyeth in the McSpotlight
    American Home Products: 685 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA

    AHP owned Wyeth (producers of Progress, SMA, Wysoy) is one of the major violators of the WHO Code. It is listed as totally or substantially violating the Code's requirements of no promotion in healthcare facilities, no promotion to health workers and no free samples or supplies. The company is the subject of boycott calls in the US and Australia.

    Wyeth also manufactures the bonzodiazepine tranquilliser, Ativan. It is one of the companies which has been criticised for not warning doctors of the drug's possible addictiveness and therefore of the need to prescribe it for short periods only. The company tests its products on animals and continues to use acute toxicity tests such as the Draize test.

    Cow & Gate in the McSpotlight
    V B Nutricia: NL-2700 MA Zoetermeer, Rokkeveenseweg 49, the Netherlands

    Unigate Unigate House, Western Avenue, London W3 0SH
    Unigate associate company Nutricia is listed as a frequent violator of the WHO Code by promoting baby milk in healthcare facilities and to health workers, and giving free samples or supplies.
    Their Cow & Gate Plus products used pictures of babies on labelling in Sierra Leone in 1990, and carried no health warning or reference to advice from health workers.

    Milupa in the McSpotlight
    Altana Industrie Aktien und Anlagen: D-6380 Bad Homburg vdH, Seedammweg 55, Germany
    Milupa on the Net (in German)

    The company at the centre of the recent salmonella scare in the UK, Milupa is now owned by Nutricia. The outbreak of salmonella in the UK caused a whole line of their products to be withdrawn from every shelf in the UK and has added to the calls to curb the activities of baby-feed manufacturers in general. Under its old guise of Altana it produced; Aptamil, Milumil and Milupa, one of the major violators of the WHO Code, Nutricia still run all these lines and it was under their management that the salmonella scare occurred. It has also been found to be totally or substantially violating several sections concerning labelling, promotion in healthcare facilities, promotion to healthcare workers, giving free samples and the marketing of soft foods.

    Milupa has also been criticised for its marketing of heavily sugared baby herbal drinks. In December 1990, a Frankfurt court ordered the company to pay compensation to parents for causing severe dental caries in two children. The company was accused of negligence and providing insufficient warning on packaging about the sugar content of its products. About 100,000 children are said to have suffered severe tooth damage from these drinks marketed by Milupa and other producers.

    Most recently Milupa has also been criticised in a report by the International Formula Monitoring Group for adopting bad practices in relation to marketing its formulas, particularly in Poland.

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    Credits: Most of the information on this page was taken from
    'the Ethical Consumer Guide to Everyday Shopping' by ECRA

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