Nestlé formula ‘protects’ strategy unveiled at 2009 AGM

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Nestle claims its Nan 'protects'Nestlé continues to mislead parents about its breastmilk substitutes, the latest strategy being unveiled at Nestlé’s shareholder meeting in Lausanne in April 2009, showing how these strategies come from the very top of the company. Nestlé is claiming that its formula ‘protects’ with prominent logos on labels highlighting added Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFAs) DHA, RHA, Opti-Pro (which implies it has visual benefits) and Bifidus.

Such claims are becoming widespread, including countries such as Malawi, one of the poorest in the world with under-5 mortality of 140 per 1,000 live births. Campaign supporters will recall that in the past Nestlé refused to translate warnings and instructions in Malawi into the national language, citing ‘cost restraints’. After a 3-year campaign, which led to this being exposed by Mark Thomas on UK television, Nestlé agreed in 2003 to add Chichewa, the national language, to labels. But now the warnings are undermined by the ‘Protect’ claim. Nestlé’s reply to Baby Milk Action raising this ignored our concerns, but it responded on its website

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.

This claim does not stand up to scrutiny. The Cochrane Library does sytematic reviews and in 2007 concluded that there was insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of probiotics to infant feeds. Cochrane also investigated the impact of adding LCPUFAs to infant formula in relation to vision, cognition and physical growth. It concluded:

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.

Malawi displayTins in Malawi were found in a special display in a rural store. Nestlé was asked to investigate and to take action to stop such displays. It did not respond on this point in its reply to Baby Milk Action, but said on its website:

“Had we had information about the retail outlet in Malawi that displayed infant formula in this incorrect fashion, we could have taken steps to correct it. Be this as it may, we are trying to identify the store and will definitely renew information to our distributors about marketing practices at shop level, that are in line with the Code recommendations.”

Nestlé did not try very hard: the name of the store chain, People’s Cash and Carry, appears in the photo. We have pointed this out to Nestlé after seeing its public comment. Nestlé simply dismissed Baby Milk Action out of hand when we raised our concerns, but it feels it cannot ignore messages from boycott supporters - and promises action. Clearly public campaigns work and we must keep them up.

You can send messages to Nestlé and other companies about specific cases of malpractice by going to the ‘codewatch’ section.

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