Protest Nestlé's claim that breastmilk substitutes 'protect' babies, public urged for UK breastfeeding awareness week (21 - 27 June 2010)

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[Media coverage: The Scotsman 22 June - Community Newswire 21 June 2010]

Campaign group Baby Milk Action is urging members of the public to spare ONE MINUTE in June, which includes UK breastfeeding awareness week (21 to 27 June 2010), to send a protest email to Nestlé over its claim that its baby milk 'protects' babies. The campaign is backed by a youtube clip and Facebook event (UPDATE: NESTLÉ IS NOT LISTENING - THE CAMPAIGN CONTINUES click here for campaign page).

Nestle tin from MalawiThe suggested email asks Nestlé to remove its colourful 'protect' logos and other health claims from labels as these undermine the obligatory message that 'breasfeeding is best for babies', introduced as a result of past campaigns which led to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes being adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981. Nestlé has recently added the 'protect' logos in a bid to promote its products despite the fact that babies fed on breastmilk substitutes are more likely to become sick than breastfed babies and, in conditions of poverty, more likely to die. Idealizing images and text are prohibited on labels by Article 9.2 of the International Code.

'Protect' logos have already been added by Nestlé to products in 120 countries, backed by promotion to health workers claiming benefits for the products, claims that are disputed by independent scientific experts and even deemed contrary to national law in countries such as South Africa and blocked by Brazil's strong law.

Nestlé has responded to the campaign so far by defending its 'protect' marketing strategy.

Health Ministers meeting at the World Health Assembly in May 2010 adopted a Resolution stating that progress in improving infant and young child health is being undermined by commercial promotion of breastmilk substitutes and baby foods and called for action on health claims. 

According to UNICEF

"Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year". 

According to the World Health Organisation

"Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed."

Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action (who plays the role of Mr. Henry Nastie in the 3 minute youtube clip to explain the strategy), said:

"Breastfeeding week promotes the message that breastmilk protects babies. It is a living substance containing antibodies and other protective factors. Nestlé competes with breastfeeding by claiming its baby milk 'protects' babies. The boycott campaign helped force companies to put 'breast is best' messages on labels, but Nestlé is trying to trump these with its more prominent colourful 'protect' logos and false claims of health benefits from using baby milk."

Health Ministers raised concerns about such strategies when adopted new Resolution at the World Health Assembly on 22 May 2010. Baby Milk Action and partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) presented evidence from their ongoing monitoring activities, including concerning Nestlé's baby milk 'protects' strategy. The new resolution states:

“Recognizing that the promotion of breast-milk substitutes and some commercial foods for infants and young children undermines progress in optimal infant and young child feeding;” 

“Expressing deep concern over persistent reports of violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes by some infant food manufacturers and distributors with regard to promotion targeting mothers and health-care workers;”

The Resolution calls for governments to act collectively: 

“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 Resolution also contains a specific Operative Paragraph which, 

“CALLS UPON infant food manufacturers and distributors to comply fully with their responsibilities under the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly resolutions;” 

Despite the above, Nestlé's stated position to people calling on it to abide by its responsibilities under the International Code, set out in Article 11.3, is: "the World Health Assembly does not formulate marketing standards – rather it makes health policy recommendations to Member States."

For further information and links to references see the campaign page at:

Or contact Mike Brady on 07986 736179 or 

Patti Rundall, Baby Milk Action Policy Director on  07786 523493

Notes for editors

1. Nestlé has admitted the promotional nature of the logos, stating in its response: "The logo helps distinguish this particular formula from other less advanced products". It claims the logo does not suggest the product is superior to breastmilk - though its 'protect' claim is absolute, not relative to other products.

2. Article 9.2 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes states: "Neither the container nor the label should have pictures of infants, nor should they have other pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula." Article 11.3 states: "Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them."

3. Nestlé claims: "The functional benefits that are encapsulated in the “Protect” logo are scientifically substantiated – the result of many years of intensive research on how best to improve the formula composition to stimulate the infant’s immune system." Independent reviews disagree, and for this reason it has not been made a requirement to include the ingredients highlighted in Nestlé's 'protect' logos in formula. For example, the authoritative Cochrane Library says of Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (the DHA and ARA in Nestlé's 'protect' logo): "It has been suggested that low levels of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) found in formula milk may contribute to lower IQ levels and vision skills in term infants. Some milk formulas with added LCPUFA are commercially available. This review found that feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth."

4. Past campaigns by Baby Milk Action have prompted action by Nestlé. For example, Nestlé has refused to translate the "breastmilk is best for babies" warning in the past, citing 'cost restraints', but changed this position after Baby Milk Action brought this to national media attention on the Mark Thomas Channel 4 programme. During national demonstrations in 2003, Nestlé reversed its opposition to a 1994 World Health Assembly Resolution that said complementary feeding should be fostered from about 6 months of ages - Nestlé had continued to promote its complementary foods for use from 4 months or even earlier. For how Nestlé spins such changes see: 

5. Baby Milk Action raised concerns about the 'protect' logos, health claims and other marketing strategies at Nestlé's shareholder meeting on 15 April 2010. The Chief Executive of Nestlé Nutrition, Mr. Richard Laube, defended the logos and said they had been introduced in 120 countries so far. See:

6. When the 'protect' logos were introduced in South Africa, backed by point-of-sale promotion in supermarkets, the Department of Health met with Nestlé to register its concerns. The Department of Health told Baby Milk Action in 2008: "The Department of Health are extremely concerned about all the health claims that Nestle make on the new NAN 1, 2 and 3 tins. The health claims are a contravention of the current South African Regulations. A meeting was held with representatives of Nestle and Department of Health and it seems they were not aware that they are transgressing the Regulations. However, they are reluctant to change the labels." See:

7. According to Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager, Dr. Gayle Crozier-Willi, Nestlé is widely boycotted. Dr. Crozier-Willi cites a poll by GMIPoll which found Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet and the most boycotted in the UK. See: