Report slams Filipino infant milk campaigns

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk

A UN expert has slammed a Filipino advertising campaign for breast
milk substitutes as "misleading, deceptive, and malicious in
intent."

Jean Ziegler this week criticized the campaign by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines - which represents the infant milk industry - for manipulating findings by a number of health organizations to benefit its profits. He also revealed his concern that companies may be distorting health claims linked to the product. The attack is likely to increase pressure on authorities in the country to tighten legislation on health claims being made by food processors, following growing concerns that they may be misleading and potentially damaging to consumer health. Ziegler stressed particular concern that the industry was misleading the public over claims that a majority of women in the country are unable to breast feed, and that using its products led to healthy, smart and happy children. A ban on falsely attributing health claims to products has already been considered in the Philippines to protect consumers, though was later overturned in the courts. In 2003 the world health organization (WHO) estimated that 16,000 Filipino children died as a result of incorrect feeding practices, including improperly prepared milk products. Due to concern over the issue, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Filipino Department of Health last year called on a proposed ban on advertising of milk products for children under two as part of 1986 milk code. The proposals also called for a wider ban on any false health or nutritional claims, which were both initially accepted. However, following lobbying from infant milk companies, the decision was temporarily revoked by the country's Supreme Court on the grounds of restraining freedom of trade. Despite not being legally obliged to act on the concerns of the WHO, Ziegler has called on all companies involved in the production of breast milk substitutes to accept their "social corporate responsibility"​ and review their advertising practices. Aside from his criticisms of processors, he also attacked medical practitioners and organisations in the country for "irresponsible and unethical behaviour" in supporting the use of milk substitutes. Nestle - one of the worlds leading suppliers of milk substitutes – maintains that it is not acting irresponsibly over the issue, and accepts that while breast feeding should be encouraged amongst mothers, milk products can have benefits for children. "Mothers should first and foremost be encouraged and supported to breast feed their baby,"​ said a statement on the company's website. "However, there are cases when babies are 'at risk' (eg low birth weight, premature or when the mother has died) and may need supplements to compensate for this."

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