Independent Review Panel reports

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Government panel says there need to be 'steps taken' to address problems in enforcing baby milk marketing law -

Campaigners welcome recommendation and call for UK law to be brought into line with international standards

Press release 11 March 2010

A long-awaited report from an Independent Review Panel (IRP) into the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations has acknowledged concerns raised by Trading Standards and other bodies over enforcing the measures and stated there need to  be "steps taken to address these." The Regulations are intended to protect breastfeeding and ensure those who use formula receive accurate information. The IRP report records the concerns of LACORS, the umbrella body for Trading Standards: "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." When the Regulations were being drafted LACORS and the Government's own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition unsuccessfully called for a ban on follow-on formula advertising, alongside an existing ban on infant formula advertising. While disappointed that the report did not go further, Baby Milk Action has welcomed the IRP's recommendation that steps now be taken to address the problems and calls on party leaders as they prepare for the General Election to commit to bringing the Regulations into line with international standards adopted by the World Health Assembly.

BFLG submissionThe Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), consisting of 23 leading health professional organisations and mother support groups and convened by Baby Milk Action, called for full implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions when the Regulations were being drafted in 2006, but were ignored by the Government (BFLG submission shown left). The Code and Resolutions include a ban on advertising and promotion of all formulas and give health workers responsibility for advising parents. The panel, which also considered the risk of parents using follow-on formula from too early an age, commented: "any ban on the advertising of follow-on formula, is a decision for policy makers, who if sufficiently concerned could consider the precautionary principle."

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, said: "The Minister for Public Health has yet more evidence of the need to strengthen the law to protect health, so let us hope there will be a commitment to do so. With an election looming we are call on all party leaders to commit to revising the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations so that the problems encountered with enforcing the Regulations are addressed.  It is a disgrace that companies are still using misleading advertising and gifts to target mothers and health workers and make promotional claims on labels."

In commissioning the review, Dawn Primorolo MP, speaking as Minister for Public Health said in Parliament:

"Let me make the position absolutely clear: the Government are determined to take tough action to stamp out those practices and to prevent marketing activity that directly or indirectly undermines breastfeeding."

Hansard, 16 January 2008

The IRP originally focussed on one narrow aspect of marketing which has no public health importance: whether parents are 'confused' and feed follow-on formula to babies under 6 months. The IRP ignored  the burning question at the heart of all the health advocates comments: whether the widespread promotion - via the internet, point-of-sale promotion, baby clubs, carelines, labels and health claims - is misleading  parents about the nutritional value and safety of the milks and undermining breastfeeding in the UK. Baby Milk Action asked supporters to contact the Minister for Public Health (now Gillian Merron MP) and the report was revised. The IRP continues to labour the point of mis-feeding of follow-on milk, unsurprisingly finding it to be uncommon, and Baby Milk Action accuses it of wasting the bulk of the £ 500,000 it has spent and suggests the report is only redeemed as it now calls for action over the problems with enforcing the Regulations.

In 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the UK and 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 Committee recommends that the State party implement fully the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes."

Aptamil adCompanies currently target parents with advertising promoting the brand name used for their range of formulas and make idealising claims. As well as being promotional, claims do not stand up to scrutiny and some have rulings against them from the Advertising Standards Authority, but loopholes in the current law mean that Trading Standards is having difficulty in requiring companies to remove these from other materials and product labels. For example, the ASA ruled against Danone's claim in an advertisement that Aptamil formula 'supports your baby's natural immune system' (left), but this claim continues to be used on follow-on formula labels. See:

The Food Standards Authority has published its own summary of the IRP report on its website, suggesting that it recommends that guidance for enforcement authorities should be made 'clearer', rather than the law strengthened. However, the report recommendation does not state this and the report notes the concern raised by Baby Milk Action that Trading Standards officers have found the Guidance Notes unenforceable when they go further than the law. The IRP's recommendation actually states: "The nature of the problems encountered when enforcing the Regulations should be characterised and steps taken to address these."

UPDATE 12 March: The FSA has now corrected its interpretation of the recommendation to read: "Any problems encountered with the enforcement of the regulations should be addressed accordingly."

Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action added: "From the outset the Government has failed to take the necessary steps to control the aggressive marketing and has bowed to pressure from both companies and the European Commission. It is nearly 30 years since the UK first promised to protect mothers and babies  - it is high time the health professionals were listened to and  these  flawed Regulations fixed."  

For further information contact:

Mike Brady: 07986 736179

Patti Rundall: 07786 523493