Liberal Democrats join Greens in committing to protect infant health - Parties back Baby Feeding Law Group campaign

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Liberal Democrats join Greens in committing to protect infant health -  Parties back Baby Feeding Law Group campaign

Press release 3 May 2010

The Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), representing 24 health, union and mother support organisations, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal Colleges of Midwives and Nursing and UNISON, has received pledges in support of its campaign for protecting infant health through the implementation of World Health Assembly marketing requirements for baby foods from the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Scottish Green Party. Baby Milk Action, the secretariat of BFLG, wrote to party leaders at the start of the UK General Election campaign.

Since 1981 successive UK governments have claimed to support  these standards that are minimum requirements for the protection of child health and have been implemented in legislation in 63 other countries. The Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Scottish Green Party have indicated that they will press for their full implementation. Position statements are awaited from other parties.

Patti Rundall OBE, Policy Director at Baby Milk Action, the secretariat for the Baby Feeding Law Group, said: 

"Health worker bodies, mother support groups, Trading Standards and the Government's own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition have all called for the Law  to be strengthened, as does the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Government's Independent Review Panel.  Its vital that any  government formed after the election does not  kick this issue into the long grass,  so we have asked party leaders to pledge to take action now and are encouraging our supporters to ask candidates to sign a pledge on the doorstep.  The lack of action in the 30 years since the UK so strongly supported the adoption of the  International Code  (when Sir George Young (Conservative) was UK Health Secretary) indicates the lack of courage policy makers have in tackling marketing issues and giant corporations.  Those concerned about health want to know which parties are committed to giving the required support and removing the misleading company information that undermines breastfeeding and endangers babies who are not breastfed."

Campaign supporters are being encouraged to ask candidates in their constituency to sign Baby Milk Action's pledge form stating they will work for the implementation of the Code and Resolutions in the UK and elsewhere.

Over the years Baby Milk Action and the BFLG and have worked with many MPs and MEPs on this issue, such as Annette Brooke (Lib Dem)  Lynne Jones (Lab) and, through the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition, with David Kidney (Lab),  who have tabled early day motions and petitions.   Other key supporters are Richard Howitt MEP lab  and Glenys Kinnock, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead,  who since becoming Minister of State for Health and the Commonwealth responded to a Parliamentary question from Lord Avebury (Lib Dem) in December 2009, pledging  the UK Government's full support for the UN requirements.  

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Scottish National parties have endorsed the Nestlé Boycott, as have many Local Authorities, MPs and MEPs. Globally Nestle is  found to be the worst of the baby food companies and is the most boycotted company in  the UK. It has tried  three times -  unsuccessfully -  to enter the UK baby food market.

In its last report on the UK (in 2008), the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stated: "it is concerned that implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common." 

The Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions adopted by the Assembly prohibit breastmilk substitutes from being promoted and give health workers responsibility for providing parents with infant feeding advice and support that is free from commercial influence. Companies are restricted to providing scientific and factual information to health workers and have to comply with labelling requirements. The UN measures are intended to stop breastfeeding from being undermined and to protect babies who are fed on breastmilk substitutes (also called 'formula' or 'baby milk'). In the UK, advertising of breastmilk substitutes on television and in magazines is widespread and companies target parents and health workers with gifts to persuade them to sign up to mailing lists so they can bombard them with promotional materials. See the report, Hard Sell Formula: Strategies used by the UK formula industry (shown left) produced by Baby Milk Action for the Baby Feeding Law Group.

Trading Standards officers have highlighted the difficulty in enforcing the existing Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations as the Government bowed to industry pressure to allow some types of breastmilk substitutes (follow-on formula) to be advertised. The Advertising Standards Authority has censured some companies for making unsupported claims in advertising, such as claiming formula will build immunity, but generally state they are unable to act on violations of the International Code because it has not been introduced into legislation. An Independent Review Panel (IRP) convened by the Government conducted a year-long investigation at a cost of £500,000  and reported in March 2010. The IRP referred to these enforcement problems and said there should be "steps taken to address these." It also suggested the Government could consider the 'precautionary principle' to ban the advertising of follow-on formula alongside the existing ban on infant formula advertising. According to the IRP report, Trading Standards said:  "One of the major problems for enforcement officers is the use of advertising and promotional material which blurs the distinction between follow-on formula and infant formula."

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party has pledged the Party's support for strengthening the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations and said: "I agree wholeheartedly that the UK must implement the World Health Organisation's recommendations on marketing breastmilk substitutes and would press for this if elected as an MP."

Speaking for the Scottish Green Party, Robin Harper cited support given in the Scottish Parliament to protect the right to breastfeed in public and said, "The Scottish Green Party is in full support of your position".

The Liberal Democrats said they, "are happy to endorse the proposal."

Baby Milk Action, perhaps best known for promoting a boycott of Nestlé (the worst of the baby food companies on a global scale), initiated a UK monitoring project in 2004 on behalf of the BFLG, with help from a grant from the King's Fund which contributed to training a team of monitors.The project is now funded by individual donations. Reports are submitted to Trading Standards and have led to some aggressive marketing practices being stopped, but generally highlight that Trading Standards are powerless to act on violations of the Code and Resolutions as they have not yet been introduced into legislation. See:

for the letters see Policy Blog:

Contact: Mike Brady on 07986 736179 and Patti Rundall on 07786 523493

Notes for editors

• Article 1 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutesstates: "The aim of this Code is to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breastmilk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution.

• The UK has breastfeeding rates amongst the lowest in the industrialised world. Despite government commitments to improve breastfeeding rates there has been little change, with initiation rates of just 76%, meaning a quarter of infants receive no breastmilk at all. Breastfeeding rates then decline rapidly.  A contributory factor to the rapid  fall off - which occurs long before mothers return to work - is the  promotion which is exposed reports such as Hard Sell Formula . In the UK few infants are breastfed at 6 months. Government figures show just 48% are breastfed at 6 WEEKS. According to government figures, 90% of mothers who stopped breastfeeding at 6 weeks said they wanted to breastfeed for longer, as did 40% of mothers who breastfed for 6 months.

• The UK Baby Feeding Law Group is an adhoc group of health professional and lay organizations working to bring UK and EU legislation into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions. Its members are: The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, the Association of Radical Midwives, Baby Milk Action, Best Beginnings,  Breastfeeding Community,  the Breastfeeding Network, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors’ Association, the Caroline Walker Trust,  the Food Commission, Heart of Mersey,  Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, La Leche League (GB), Little Angels, Midwives Information and Resource Service, the National Childbirth Trust, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Baby Café,  UK Association for Milk Banking,  UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative,  UNISON and the Women’s Environmental Network.

• Baby Feeding Law Group members are also members of theBreastfeeding Manifesto Coalition, which is calling for action in 7 areas to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to reduce health inequalities and there is no food more locally produced or sustainable than breastmilk. A breastfed child is less likely to suffer from gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections, diabetes, allergies and other illnesses. In areas with unsafe water a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million lives around the world every year. Breastfeeding helps fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals and has the potential to reduce under-5 mortality by 13%. A further 6% of deaths could be saved through appropriate complementary feeding. Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to the mother, such as reduced risk of some cancers.