Call to Action groups 'disappointed' by formula producers’ response on marketing

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Call to Action was issued in June 2020 to all companies that manufacture baby formula globally and was sent directly to the CEOs of 21 companies.  Pic: Getty Images/Paffy69
The Call to Action was issued in June 2020 to all companies that manufacture baby formula globally and was sent directly to the CEOs of 21 companies. Pic: Getty Images/Paffy69

Related tags: Infant formula, Infant formula products, WHO, breast feeding, breastmilk

A group consisting of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and NGOs working to improve infant and young child nutrition said it is disappointed by the response of manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) to its global Call to Action.

The alliance said only two global manufacturers, responsible for 1% of global BMS production – KraftHeinz and Meiji – committed to stop what the group called “aggressive and unethical marketing” of the BMS they produce.

“We applaud their commitment and look forward to seeing further details on how they plan to implement their pledge,”​ Dr Francesco Branca of the WHO said.

“However, we are profoundly disappointed that no other company, including the largest global companies, took this crucial opportunity to commit to achieving compliance with internationally agreed health policy. Ongoing corporate failure to comply with the Code has already negatively impacted global health and nutrition.”

The Call to Action was issued in June 2020 to all companies that manufacture baby formula globally and was sent directly to the CEOs of 21 companies.

It called on BMS manufacturers to make unambiguous, measurable commitments to align their marketing policies and practices with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions (together referred to as the Code).

The group said the Code is a critical tool to achieve optimal health and nutrition in early childhood by protecting breastfeeding and ensuring the safe use of BMS when needed.

“The failure of BMS companies to adhere to the Code contributes to poor nutrition in young children and, in many cases, preventable child deaths. More than 800,000 lives are lost each year due to sub-optimal breastfeeding. Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is as important as ever,”​ said Dr Victor Aguayo of UNICEF.

NGOs involved in the global Call to Action said in a statement, “Only two global breast-milk substitute (BMS) manufacturers made full commitments to stop the aggressive and unethical marketing of their BMS products in response to a global Call to Action from the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and leading NGOs working to improve infant and young child nutrition. This response sends a clear message that the BMS industry is unwilling to fulfill its obligation to comply with global health policy guidelines that are endorsed by national governments and designed to protect all children and ultimately save lives.”​ 

They said companies have had 40 years to adopt policies and practices in compliance with the Code across their global operations, but have failed to do so, adding the Call to Action asked companies to publicly commit to achieve full Code compliance by 2030 at the latest, and submit a clear implementation roadmap by the end of 2020 detailing how Code compliance will be achieved.

They noted 17 companies submitted responses but only KraftHeinz and Meiji committed to market their BMS products in full compliance with the Code by 2030.

“We are profoundly disappointed that no other company, including the largest global companies, took this crucial opportunity to commit to achieving compliance with internationally agreed health policy,”​ the statement added.

The statement continued, “Of the six largest BMS companies, representing 60% of the global market, Nestlé and Danone pledged to make useful modifications to their policies to address some aspects of the Code while still falling short of a commitment to fully align their marketing policies and practices with the Code.

“We are extremely disappointed that Abbott, Feihe, FrieslandCampina, and RB submitted responses to the Call to Action that failed to make any commitments to improve their marketing policies and practices to bring them more closely into line with the Code. FrieslandCampina did however commit to sharing a roadmap to outline the steps it is willing to take over the next decade, as did Ausnutria, Danone, KraftHeinz, Meiji, Morinaga, and Nestlé.

“KraftHeinz and PepsiCo made a first step towards Code compliance by publishing policies that set out their commitments in relation to marketing BMS products for infants aged 0-12 months in all countries. Ausnutria stated that it has adopted a policy covering formulas for infants from birth to 12 months of age but does not appear to have published this policy.

“Fonterra published a policy covering these products, and Lactalis committed to do so by the end of 2021. Further analysis is needed to determine whether these companies’ policies are fully aligned with the Code. While breastfeeding needs to be protected beyond just the first year of life, policies and practices covering the 0-12 month period are an important step to improving the health of young children around the world.

“In addition to Ausnutria and Lactalis, four companies – Asahi, HiPP, H&H, and Morinaga – also committed to develop or publish a first-ever policy on BMS marketing. We are encouraged that these companies are beginning to recognize the negative impact that their marketing practices can have on infant and young child health and urge them to ensure that their new policies and practices align fully to the Code.”

The group said four companies did not respond to the Call to Action: Yili Group, Mengniu, Progress JSC, and Waja Nutritionals (Nutrilatt). They noted Vinamilk submitted a response but did not make any commitments to improve its marketing policies and practices.

They concluded, “We reiterate our call to all BMS companies to fully align their marketing policies and practices to the Code in order to improve infant and young child health and nutrition globally. Stakeholders in all BMS companies must demand that they take immediate steps and confirm their commitment to ethically market their BMS products.

“The disappointing response to the Call to Action underscores the urgent need for strong national Code legislation that is rigorously enforced. Human rights bodies of the United Nations have stated that adoption of the Code is a core obligation of countries under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“All company responses were reviewed and assessed by the signatories of the Call to Action and by the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI), an independent monitoring body that evaluates food and beverage manufacturers’ policies, practices, and disclosures on addressing all forms of malnutrition. The individual company responses and the assessments can be found on the Call to Action website.” 

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