Infant formula marketing furore in APAC: 'Industry recognises responsibilities,' says trade association

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Industry giants such as Danone and Nestlé have been accused of violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. ©Getty Images
Industry giants such as Danone and Nestlé have been accused of violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. ©Getty Images

Related tags Breastfeeding Milk

Multinational infant formula firms "recognise the importance of responsible marketing practices", insists Asia Pacific's trade body amid fresh allegations of unethical practices.

The Asia-Pacific Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association (APIYCNA) was responding to claims that several of its members, including industry giants such as Danone and Nestlé, have been violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

The allegations have been made in a report entitled Don't Push It: Why the Formula Milk Industry Must Clean Up its Act​, published by the charity Save the Children.

The report alleged that in Indonesia and Vietnam, Abbot’s policies "barely aligned to the Code"​ in that its marketing staff did not "perform educational functions"​ when it came to mothers and pregnant women. It had also reportedly failed to mention the "superiority of breastmilk"​ on its labelling.

Furthermore, it cited the views of Dutch non-profit Access to Nutrition Foundation's (ATNF) Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI), which claimed Danone to be the least Code-compliant in Indonesia and Vietnam when it came to providing information to mothers and pregnant women.

The report added: "Danone has co-opted, without permission, the 1,000 Days campaign of UNICEF, WHO, 1,000 Days and others to promote improvement of maternal, infant and young child nutrition."

China market impact?

It also stated that Nestlé had "adopted human rights language"​ in its marketing and claimed to have adhered to the Code, but had in fact employed "aggressive breastmilk substitutes marketing"​.

The report further highlighted that all these companies had a major presence in China, where parents have expressed a clear preference for infant formula from renowned global companies.

In response to a query by NutraIngredients-Asia​, APIYCNA said: "We take note of the recently published Save the Children's report and its initiative to assess the infant and young child nutrition industry marketing practices.

"APIYCNA would like to stress that our members producing formula recognise the importance of responsible marketing practices.

"When marketing follow-up formula (including growing-up milks) in countries where this is regulated by local legislation, our industry agrees that it needs to be ethical, unambiguous and done transparently."

The trade body represents all the companies mentioned in the report: Abbott, Danone, FrieslandCampina, and Nestlé, as well as Mead Johnson and Wyeth.

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes' goal has been stated as the commitment 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"​.

Philippines concerns

Aggressive marketing by infant formula firms was something The Guardian​ recently highlighted in an article​, which alleged that Nestlé, Abbott, Mead Johnson and Wyeth had been giving Philippines doctors, midwives and other health workers free trips to conferences and tickets to shows, among other freebies.

The article added that such marketing tactics were illegal and disproportionately targeted low-income mothers who lack sufficient education on the pros of breastfeeding and the cons of formula-feeding.

The companies mentioned in the article have denied any wrongdoing, and APIYCNA further told NutraIngredients-Asia​: "Our industry is dedicated to improving infant and child nutrition around the world. We understand that good nutrition needs to be addressed on both a global and a local level, using a whole-of-society approach.

"We welcome an open dialogue with regulatory authorities, academia and civil society to ensure provision of the best possible nutrition for infants and young children — a goal that we all share."

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