Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Illegal Advertising of Formula Milk

There is a TV advert for follow-on formula milk that turns my stomach every time I see it. It features laughing babies with a voiceover and on screen text that aim to show that formula milk is equally as good for your baby as breastmilk. Since it is illegal to make a direct comparison between breastmilk and formula milk in a UK advert, no direct reference to breastmilk is made. However claims such as "Helps support some natural defences" are clearly intended to address the fact that breastmilk contains antibodies and formula milk does not. I had intended to research advertising standards on this issue and write a post a about it; however it turns out that the non-profit organisation Baby Milk Action has already had complaints about the advert rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority. The complaint went as follows:
The advertisement promotes the Cow & Gate website and infant and follow-on formula brand name. It features laughing babies and has written text that idealises the use of formula, for example stating: "Do I look like I need more vitamins and iron?", "Do I look like my tummy's unhappy?", "Do I look like I'm worried by others people's germs and sniffles?". This hides the fact that babies fed on infant formula or follow-on formula are more likely to become sick with gastro-entiritis, respiratory infections and other illnesses than infants fed on breastmilk, which is recommended in the UK beyond 6 months (the age at which follow-on milks are labelled for use) and into the second year of life and beyond. Voice over and other text further idealises Cow & Gate follow-on formula, which is specifically shown being bottle fed (making it clear it is a breastmilk substitute, as a bottle is a substitute breast). Text claims that the formula contains "key nutrients", helps promote "healthy digestion", helps support some "natural defences". The formula is branded 'complete care' which hides the fact that it does not provide complete care in the same way as breastfeeding, which contains anti-bodies and other protective factors and other ingredients important for development that are not contained in the formula. The final voice over and text states: "Because healthy babies are happy babies" which again hides the fact that babies fed on the formula are more likely to become sick...... Advertising of infant formula is illegal under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 2007.

In fact the advert seems to contravene several key points of the law on promotion of breastmilk, which as summarised by the National Cihldbirth Trust as:

It is illegal to advertise or promote formula for babies under six months old to the public. This includes price reductions, displays or other promotions in shops.

Follow on formula advertisements must not feature babies under six months old.

When promoting and advertising follow-on formula to the public there should be no risk of confusion between infant formula and follow-on formula.

It is illegal to use advertising that makes direct comparisons between formula milk and breastmilk.

It is illegal to blur the distinction between infant and follow-on formula in the promotion and labeling of formula.

Advertising of follow on formula should not discourage breastfeeding or compare follow on formula to breastmilk.

What more can I say? Our government claims to support breastfeeding. It sets targets to increase the number of mothers breastfeeding at birth, six weeks and six months. Yet it bends to the financial might of food companies by allowing illegal advertising of formula milk.


Jessica - This Is Worthwhile said...

Wow - I wish we had the same kinds of formula restrictions here in the US. Although, not to say I blame women for choosing formula over breastmilk, just that i don't think advertising should have a stitch to do with the decision.

Great post :)

I love your site. Really. You're posting some excellent stuff.

Amanda said...

Here, here, Jessica. And now I've heard there are issues arising around the DHA they're adding to make formula "even more like breastmilk."

Cave Mother said...

I only did some brief research for this post and I will read more, but I did read that there are some UN rules on formula advertising and the UK is not even following them properly. So if the situation is even worse in the US, that means they're probably contravening the UN rules too. Jessica - I agree exactly about your point, advertising should not be the deciding factor in choosing formula milk. That is why I object to it. And thanks for the compliment :-). I am enjoying your blog too.