Ex-UNICEF head joining Nestle board reignites baby milk marketing controversy

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nestlé Milk Breastfeeding Infant formula

Ex-UNICEF head Ann Veneman has been appointed to the Nestle board, sparking debate over the Swiss food giant's compliance with WHO standards on baby milk marketing.

At issue is whether Nestle complies with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – a set of voluntary World Health Organisation (WHO) rules that set strict limits on the promotion of baby foods.

Compliant or not?

According to Patty Rundell from Baby Milk Action (BMA), a breastfeeding lobby group, Nestle is “far from being compliant with the WHO code.”

Rundell told this publication that Nestle violates the code by continuing to promote baby food products and by sponsoring events for health professionals. As examples, she cited the use of a “protect” logo on Nestle baby milks and sponsorship of a conference for doctors in India.

UNICEF agrees that Nestle is not in compliance with the WHO code. A spokesperson for the children’s charity said: “I can confirm that Nestle violates the code.”

But in a Reuters article Nestle appeared to deny this. Spokesperson Robin Tickle said the appointment of Venneman would help would help "ensure our continued full compliance"​ with the code.

Nestle responds

Talking to this publication, Nestle spokesperson Ferhat Soygenis stopped short of saying that Nestle is in full compliance with the code across the globe.

Soygenis said Nestle abides by the code where it is written into law and follows the rules, regardless of whether local governments do, in developing countries.

“In all countries of the world, Nestle adheres to national government measures implementing the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes.

In the developing world, Nestle has no communication with the public whatsoever on baby milks. In addition to following national Codes, Nestle voluntarily applies the entire WHO Code, whether the government does or not.”

Nestle is a popular target for breastfeeding campaigners but according to BMA it is not the only company to violate the WHO code.

Mike Brady from BMA claimed that Danone is also not in compliance but the lobby group has yet to mount a campaign against the French dairy. He explained that: “Danone is more communicative than Nestle and willing to accept the need to make changes.”

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