As you know, I’ve been talking a bit about violations of the WHO Code. I’ve started collecting some examples of everyday Code-breaking in Australia.
My last example was of Wyeth’s transgressions. Have you heard of Nutricia, a Dutch Numico subsidiary? Some examples of issues in Numico’s past include direct-to-mother promotional campaigns in China, hospital violations in Indonesia, violations in Russia, and concealment and lies about salmonella contamination of their infant formula products in the UK and France.
Nutricia’s Australian website proclaims:
“… at Nutricia Australia we have adopted one of the strictest interpretations of the code in the interest of mother and baby.”
This is false.
IBFAN gives a detailed summary of the World Health Organisation Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes here. Note particularly these articles:
“There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code.” Article 5.1
* Companies are banned from seeking contact with pregnant women and mothers and must not promote products covered by the Code to them or the general public in any way .[…] Advertising is a form of promotion as are: direct mail, leaflets and pamphlets, posters, product samples, free gifts, video shows and lectures.
[…] Article 5.3 covers retail outlets. It clarifies the ban on promotion by citing the following examples:
* point of sale advertising
* giving of samples
* discount coupons, premiums, special sales, loss-leaders and tie-in sales.”
Here’s what dropped into my letterbox last week. The Woolworths discount promotions leaflet is on the left, and the Coles one is on the right.
Back to the Code, and moving on to the Labelling section.
“Labels should be designed to provide the necessary information about the appropriate use of the product, and so as not to discourage breastfeeding.” Article 9.1
[…] * No idealising text or pictures […]
Article 9.2 also bans:
* pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula.”
(You might try to quibble that these particular strictures are meant to apply to product labelling, not advertising – but that’s because advertising is BANNED. I think it’s reasonable to analyse the violating ads further using the labelling restrictions as guides.)
So I looked a little more closely at the Wyeth promotion, and saw this:
This is idealising text designed purely to convince breastfeeding mothers of colicky infants to wean onto artificial infant milk. Typical infant colic (YMMV) peaks at around 6 weeks of age, remains till around 3 months, then subsides. While it lasts, it can often be ameliorated by manageable maternal dietary changes (such as elimination of cows milk protein), babywearing, and/or changes in breastfeeding (feeding for longer from one breast, to reduce the amount of foremilk a baby is getting).
The vast majority of nursing mothers of colicky babies want to breastfeed. But a crying baby makes you desperate. Cultural programming beats women with messages that their bodies are weak, deficient, inadequate and dangerous to babies. This is powerful, noxious stuff. The healthcare system is not designed to support women through infant feeding difficulties; only to lecture them about breastfeeding at the time their babies are born, then hammer them with “Well, you tried, give it up now dear” if anything goes wrong. Companies clobber them with ubiquitous toxic advertisements for “gentle” formula that has “comfort proteins” and “keeps little tummies happy”.
A week or two after weaning, by the time a mum realises that the colic hasn’t stopped (or perhaps has become much, much worse as a result of the foreign proteins filling the baby’s belly), their milk supply will have dropped to nearly zero – and have you tried finding information about relactation in the mainstream healthcare system lately? No. They end up on a rollercoaster of trying one artificial food after another, sometimes ending up on extensively hydrolysed or amino acid formulas.
The Medical Journal of Australia estimates the cost of these formulas to the taxpayer-funded Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
“The estimated cost to the PBS for amino acid formula for 2003″“2004 of $7 107 627 was 10 times that of hydrolysed formula ($757 570).”
This isn’t counting the “gap” formula costs to the parents, or the other health costs, outlined at promom.org – RSV, croup, otitis media, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes, breast cancer, and other diseases and cancers. Human suffering and infant deaths? Priceless.
Australia needs to stand up and be counted. Stop bludgeoning women with “shoulds”, then whipping the rug out from under them. Start supporting women and babies in real ways. Enforce the WHO Code, and criminalise violations. Train and fund healthcare workers and the ABA. Bring in paid maternity leave for all women, for at least three months, moving to six months. Fund breast pumps for women who do wish to work or have other separations, and enforce workplace support for lactation. Encourage societal attitudes that see women’s bodies as powerful and functional, not weak, shoddy and defective.
And above all, stop blaming mothers. Put the blame where it belongs. Lying lies and the lying liars who tell them.