First Global Report on International Code Implementation Launched

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Press release from Unicef UK 9th May 2016: Formula advertising: a serious and continued threat to breastfeeding, says new report

The UK Government should scale up efforts to monitor and enforce legal measures against inappropriate advertising and marketing of formula milk, teats and bottles, a new report by Unicef, WHO and IBFAN found today.

The 2016 report on the implementation of the International Code on Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes found that the UK – despite having one of the biggest formula milk industries in the world – had only “a few provisions in law” to deal with formula companies who aggressively market their products.

A Call to Action issued by Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative last month, found that breastfeeding in the UK was viewed by many as difficult to achieve and largely unnecessary because formula milk is seen as a close second best. Additionally, it is a highly emotive subject because so many families have not breastfed, or have experienced the trauma of trying to breastfeed and not succeeding.

Yet powerful research funded by the Gates Foundation and published in the Lancet in January 2016, comprehensively spells out the wealth of evidence to confirm that increasing breastfeeding rates saves lives and dramatically improves public health including in countries such as the UK. Lancet author Professor Cesar Victora stated: “There is a widespread misconception that breastmilk can be replaced with artificial products without detrimental consequences and that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth. The importance of tackling this global issue is greater now than ever before.”

Recognising the pain that many parents in the UK feel at any implication that they have not done the best for their baby, Unicef UK is urging the UK and devolved governments to show leadership in moving the blame for a major public health issue away from individual women, and acknowledge the collective responsibility of us all to create a supportive, enabling environment for women who want to breastfeed.

One measure that would move significantly towards achieving this would be to protect the public from harmful commercial interests by adopting, in full, the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions (“the Code”). Whilst the UK has signed up to “the Code”, today’s report highlights the fact that aggressive and inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes, and other food products that compete with breastfeeding, continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates.

Global sales of breast-milk substitutes total US$ 44.8 billion, and are expected to rise to US$ 70.6 billion by 2019. The UK formula industry is the 11th largest in the world and predicted to be worth $907million by 2019. Marketing practices by formula companies eager to sell their products often negatively affect the choice and ability of mothers to breastfeed their infants optimally. The Code is a vital tool to regulate and reduce inappropriate marketing.

As Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, says, “There are still far too many places where mothers are inundated with incorrect and biased information through advertising and unsubstantiated health claims. This can distort parents’ perceptions and undermine their confidence in breastfeeding, with the result that far too many children miss out on its many benefits.”

This report requires countries to scale up their efforts to monitor and enforce national legal measures. In particular, governments need to increase funding and capacity for monitoring bodies, and ensure that Parliamentarians must be sensitized to the importance of Code monitoring and enforcement.