Does any Nestle formula packaging in any nation make claims that the formula offers protection or protects the baby against diarrhea or any other ailment?
This question was submitted by Candace from Mamanista.
Nestlé makes significant investments in R&D and technology to deliver innovative products with scientifically proven nutritional benefits. While our infant nutrition products meet the needs of non-breastfed babies during the first critical months of life, the functional benefits that are referred to on our products are scientifically substantiated – the result of many years of intensive research on how best to improve the formula composition. However, we never claim in any manner that infant formula is superior to breast milk. All our infant formula labels contain the following text: “Important notice: Breast milk is best for babies. Before you decide to use an infant formula, consult your doctor or clinic for advice.”
Take a look at the labelling on this product. What do you see?
According to Mike Brady from Baby Milk Action, this label is from Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries. In 2007, Malawi had an under-5 mortality rate of 111 children per 1,000 live births. For comparison purposes, the United States has an under-5 mortality rate of 8 children per 1,000 live births. (Source for infant mortality data: UNICEF Info by Country). Cuba, a poorer country than the United States but with substantially higher breastfeeding rates and much better breastfeeding support, has an under-5 mortality rate of 7 children per 1,000 live births (better than the United States).
In Malawi, the majority of babies are breastfed, but there is still lots of room for improvement in the breastfeeding rate overall and in ensuring exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months (57% manage exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months according the same UN report quoted above). Given the high infant mortality rate, the poverty, and ongoing challenges with clean water, Malawi is not a good place to be promoting formula as "protecting" infants.
Nestle is right that this label contains a clause saying that "breastmilk provides the best food for your baby and reduces the risk of diarrhea and illnesses" (see the small print at the bottom of the can), but it is significantly less prominent than the big PROTECT stamp telling you all the wonderful ways that Nestle formula will protect your baby. The thing is, all of those protections and more exist in breastmilk.
Where I live, we have language laws designed to protect the French language. On signs, labels, etc. the French has to be more prominent than the English. Perhaps we need a similar law for breastfeeding protection. A law that says that the information on breastmilk being best must be bigger than any claim about the formula and it must be clear that the claim about the formula is compared with other formulas, not compared with breastmilk. This is similar to the issue that I had with the Avent ad that was claiming its bottles protected against colic, but only in the very small print a few pages down did they tell you that it was compared with other bottles.
How often do you read the fine print?
Are you sure?
If we want to be sure that the right messages are getting to parents and if we cannot get companies to voluntarily comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, then I don't see any way other than to specifically legislate something similar to what is required on tobacco labels in Canada - i.e plain packaging, big warnings, graphic images of the dangers, only available behind the counter. To be clear, I'm not comparing the dangers of formula with the dangers of tobacco (although given the conditions in developing countries they could perhaps be compared there). However, the tactics of tobacco companies and the tactics of formula companies are similar. They will be sneaky and devious about their marketing until they are completely cut off.
Please also read the comment from Mike Brady below for additional context and information on the labelling issue.