Nutrition watchdog slams rugby sponsorship deal

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Nutrition watchdog slams rugby sponsorship deal
The Infant Nutrition Council (INC) has expressed strong concern over the recent sponsorship deal between the Warriors rugby league club and Chinese-owned New Zealand infant formula company.

INC CEO Jan Carey said it is not in the interests of New Zealand’s reputation internationally for the Warriors to be promoting any infant formula brand. The rugby club is the country’s representative in the elite Australian NRL tournament.

"The infant formula industry in New Zealand has worked hard to make sure its marketing practices are ethical, to ensure that the important role of breastfeeding is not undermined​," Carey said.

"This sponsorship steps outside industry practice which restricts promotion to parents​."

Breaches code of practice

Carey said the council, which represents the interests of the infant formula industry in New Zealand, advocates optimal nutrition for all infants. Its members adhere to a voluntary code of practice that restricts advertising infant formula directly to the public. The code is part of New Zealand's response to the World Health Organisation International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, which prescribes how information about infant formula can be marketed.

"This sponsorship deal, which will see Warriors players in the 2013 National Youth Competition and those in the 2014 and 2015 NRL team promoting an infant formula product on their uniforms, will undermine important breastfeeding messages and the code of practice in New Zealand​," Carey remarked.

"It is important that all companies manufacturing and marketing infant formula in New Zealand understand this and act responsibly by complying with both the voluntary marketing code and the regulatory regime​."

Fernbaby is not a member of the INC.

Earlier this week, Fernbaby assistant director John McCaulay had said that the Warriors sponsorship was part of a strategy to create a global brand built on New Zealand's reputation as a supplier of top-quality food products.

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said the deal was a landmark moment in broadening the club's sponsorship portfolio and has "huge potential internationally", including the potential for the company's Chinese connections to open doors for the Warriors in Asia, including a possible pre-season trial.

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