This is happening in the wake of the melamine disaster in which tens of thousands of babies were sickened and hospitalised – and a few died – from poisoned infant formula. Products made from the poisoned Sanlu milk was also exported to places such as Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Canada.
Breastfeeding rates have been progressively falling in China over the past few decades, with the Chinese Ministry of Health meeting with UNICEF and the WHO on possible ways to ameliorate this. The fall in breastfeeding has coincided with rises in urbanisation and in the development of a dairy industry in China, and with the invasion of Western Big Dairy into Asian markets. Mandated minimum maternity leave is only 90 days, many rural mothers work away from their infants as urban migrant workers, and protection of rights to express milk in the workplace seems to be haphazard at best. Formula industry advertising materials and promotional samples are still handed out to new mothers. Fewer than half of babies under six months are exclusively breastfed now, and beliefs that breastmilk substitutes are better than breastmilk – fuelled by unchecked marketing and promotions – are common.
There have been sporadic reports that breastfeeding rates were starting to bounce back after the poisoning – good for babies, but bad for business. So companies such as Abbott are fighting back.
Monsters & Critics reports that billboards advertising infant formula have been spotted in Hong Kong and Singapore, in violation of the WHO Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
An attractive, smiling, healthy-looking couple pose with their thumbs up in front of a billboard in a Hong Kong railway station showing a teddy bear.
Alongside them is a picture of the US brand Abbott’s ‘Eye Q’ Gain Advance baby milk range which the advert claims has gained the trust of parents, and boasts: ‘Abbott formulas are of superior quality and safety.’ [...]
A spokesman for Abbott Nutrition, the company behind the advertisement in the Hong Kong station, said it complies with all applicable laws and regulations in all countries where it does business. However, it did not respond to questions about whether the advertisement was in breach of the international code.
Obviously, the billboard is in breach of the WHO Code, which reads, in part:
There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code.
Abbott’s own webpage has a section on Code compliance. It reads:
IFM member companies adhere to the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and fully comply with national legislation on the distribution and marketing of infant formula.
More lies from the infant formula business. Is anyone surprised? No. But who’s getting pissed off enough to do something about it?
Some of the more commonly bought products they make, if you’d like to look into alternatives, include Brufen and Nurofen, Prevacid, Ensure, Pedialyte, PediaSure, and Similac. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about any infant formula product from a company that doesn’t breach the WHO Code and lie about it yet. As far as I can tell? They all do. A donation to an organisation that supports breastfeeding – the ABA or UNICEF – might be an alternative.