UNICEF expresses its support for the Resolution opposing the health claim

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Dr Nicholas Alipui,  Director of Programme at UNICEF HQ in New york has responded to a request from an MEP for an opinion on the DHA claim. 

Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui

Director of Programmes



I certainly appreciate Ms Willmott’s concern [Baby Milk Action notes: Glenis Willmott is the lead author of the Resolution adopted by the Environmental, Public Health and Food Safety Committee] over the use of health claims in relation to breastmilk substitutes, including follow-up formulas.

It is UNICEF’s view that a follow-on formula is as much a breastmilk substitute as infant formula. Indeed, follow-on formulas did not exist when the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted in 1981, and were developed by the baby food industry to try and get around the prohibition on promotion in the Code. This led the World Health Assembly to adopt Resolution 39.28 in 1986 stating that “the practice being introduced in some countries of providing infants with specially formulated milks (so-called follow-up milks) is not necessary”. Since, according to WHA, babies should be breast-fed for two years or beyond, any milk product marketed for use before that age will replace breastmilk and must be considered a breastmilk substitute for the purposes of the Code. UNICEF’s views on the scope of the International Code were presented to the European Parliament Development and Cooperation Committee meeting on standard setting by European enterprises in developing countries on 23 November 2000. I attach a copy of the UNICEF statement in case this might be useful.

Turning directly to the issue of health claims, here at UNICEF we share the concerns expressed by the World Health Assembly over the last decade:

In 2001 (WHA 54.2) the World Health Assembly (which comprises representatives from all EU countries) first announced that it was “conscious of the need for the Codex Alimentarius Commission to take the International Code and subsequent relevant Health Assembly resolutions into consideration in dealing with health claims in the development of food standards and guidelines”.

By 2005 the World Health Assembly was “concerned that nutrition and health claims may be used to promote breastmilk substitutes as superior to breastfeeding” and thus called on Member States “to ensure that nutrition and health claims are not permitted for breastmilk substitutes, except where specifically provided for in national legislation;”. (WHA 58.32).

There can be little doubt that the use of such health claims can mislead parents into thinking that the formulas are as good as, if not better than breastmilk. They are not informed that the claims of improved visual development are based on a comparison with non-fortified artificial formula, and not with breastmilk, which the evidence shows leads to optimal survival, growth and development. And as you point out in your e-mail, there would appear to be no consensus in the scientific community about the effects of supplementing DHA.

Most recently, in 2010 the Assembly adopted WHA 63.23 calling on Member States “to end inappropriate promotion of food for infants and young children and to ensure that nutrition and health claims shall not be permitted for foods for infants and young children, except where specifically provided for, in relevant Codex Alimentarius standards or national legislation”.

The Codex Alimentarius Guidelines for Use of Nutrition and Health Claims state that health claims should be consistent with national health and nutrition policy. While I am not knowledgeable of the nutrition policies in all 27 EU countries, I note that the EU Commission Infant and young child feeding: Standard recommendations for the European Union and Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding in Europe: a blueprint for action both follow the WHA recommendation that, as a public health policy, breastfeeding should continue for two years or beyond. It would thus seem that allowing health claims in relation to breastmilk substitutes, including follow-on formula, would undermine this policy.

On the basis, therefore, of these observations, UNICEF would be supportive of the proposed resolution opposing health claims.

Best regards  Nick Alipui

(See attached file: UNICEF statement to the European Parliament Development and Co.doc)


Follow this link to see the UNICEF Philippines  film which shows how parents are misled DHA claims and  believe formula  is better than breastfeeding:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNYDPKQOVUE


UNICEF statement to the European Parliament Development and Co.doc37.5 KB