Presently, the restriction covers parents of children below six months of age, but in a seemingly counter-intuitive move, the council has deemed an extension necessary.
CEO Jan Carey told NutraIngredients-Asia: "This initiative was supported by the Ministry of Health. Follow-on formula is a breastmilk substitute, and we believe the marketing for any breastmilk substitute should come under the interpretation of the WHO's Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitute."
The council had said a letter sent to Caroline McElnay, New Zealand's Director of Public Health, was what pushed it to propose the new measure.
McElnay was receptive to the suggestions in the letter, and encouraged an update to the current regulation as she believed it would better match the WHO's stance and be more consistent with the NZ Ministry of Health's infant nutrition guidelines.
The Infant Nutrition Council's application also mentioned that according to McElnay, Australian authorities have already implemented rules to limit infant formula advertising targeted at parents of children below one year old.
The application is industry-wide and as such, requires approval from the Commerce Commission.
Conflict of interest?
Considering that the Infant Nutrition Council represents approximately 95% of the volume of infant formula produced, manufactured, marketed and exported in New Zealand and has 41 industry members, the application might strike one as a conflict of interest.
However, Carey explained why this was not the case.
"We represent the manufacturers and marketers of infant formula, but they are first of all in the infant nutrition business.
"You might think it's strange that an industry would restrict its own market, and that there would be a conflict of interest, but we're doing this because it's the right thing to do. Our members are all supportive so far."
She added that the council operates by consensus instead of majority view, and the ordinary members of its board (including Danone, Fonterra and Nestlé) had voiced their support for the initiative before the council wrote to its other members requesting their views.
According to Carey, they also turned out to be supportive of the application.
Infant nutrition above infant formula
She further said that while the business interests of the infant formula companies were important, the Infant Nutrition Council and its members prioritised infant health above all else.
"We are in the infant nutrition business before we are in the infant formula business. We represent infant formula companies, but the reason formula was invented in the first place was to provide a substitute when breastmilk was not available.
"No other industry in the world knows the value of breastmilk like the infant nutrition industry does, because it's been studying breastmilk for years and trying to replicate it. We know formula is not as good as breastmilk.
"We want to support the opportunity for babies to have their mothers' milk first. While we are restricting our own marketing, we are doing it because we think it's the right thing to do. The main idea is to support the New Zealand government's public health goals to protect to promote breastfeeding."
Addressing possible concerns over parents' access to information on infant formula should the restriction be extended, Carey said the council encourages them to obtain the information from health practitioners and healthcare professionals.
The future of formula
Following the Infant Nutrition Council's application to the Commerce Commission, the latter issued a draft determination on August 27 stating that despite likely limitations on market competition, the extension was worth considering for its potential health benefits.
The determination also called for authorisation for a five-year period, calling for submissions from interested parties. The submission deadline is September 17, after which the Commerce Commission will make a final determination on November 8.
Fonterra — an ordinary member of the Infant Nutrition Council — released a statement saying it had already begun applying the proposed infant formula advertising restriction.