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Doctors fear drop in breastfeeding if formula firms policed themselves

By RJ Whitehead , 25-Mar-2014

Fearful of a drop in breastfeeding rates now that the Australian government has scrapped an independent panel that overseas on the proper use of breast milk substitutes, doctors are calling for the promotion of baby formula to be restricted.

Paediatricians from Australasia’s largest specialist college, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), have urged parliament to restrict the marketing of infant formulas so that more new mothers are encouraged to breastfeed.

Figures by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that only 15% of mothers exclusively breastfeed up to six months of age in Australia.

Self-monitoring

The RACP’s Paediatrics and Child Health Division President, Associate Professor Susan Moloney, warned of what might happen if manufacturers were granted permission to monitor their own marketing practices.

Removing the APMAIF and replacing it with an industry-led process creates a risk that these companies will protect their own interests over the core responsibility to promote the best source of infant nutrition—breastfeeding,” Moloney claimed.

The disbanding of the independent Advisory Panel on the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula (APMAIF) is very concerning.

Instead, Moloney said the RACP would like to see legislation that reflected the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which recommends restrictions on the marketing of substitutes to ensure that mothers are not encouraged to unnecessarily abandon breastfeeding.

We need an impartial and independent body in place to monitor the marketing and complaints process for infant formula in Australia, guided and regulated by legislation that restricts public exposure to information that would undermine breastfeeding.”

Ensure impartiality

Jennifer James, course coordinator in nursing and midwifery at RMIT, who was the consumer representative on the panel for six years, said independent oversight was essential to ensure impartiality when it came to supporting breastfeeding mothers.

No Australian government has understood the importance of implementing the World Health Organisation Code to public health in Australia,” she said.

Small numbers of complaints in the past merely reflects the significant limitations of the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formulas Agreement.”

Since the WHO code was adopted in 1981, 84 countries have enacted legislation implementing many or all of its provisions, although Australia is not one of them.

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