Ever allowed yourself the fantasy that just one spritz of perfume was going to whisk you into a black and white Parisian romance or that by eating one bite of a breakfast cereal and you’d be a star athlete?
It’s no secret that corporations have one goal – to sell their product. To do so they hire very talented marketing agencies to do in-depth market research to see what it is that their target audience is thinking. They then use that information to address a problem the consumer may not even be aware they have, but which their product can solve by way of an elaborate storyline, perfectly-timed cross promotion and quality videography. They sow seeds of doubt and offer an appealing solution – an enviable lifestyle or extraordinary skill.
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These are the people who are selling breast-milk substitutes in Australia and across the globe. Make no mistake, the manufacturers of infant formula and packaged infant foods are responsible to their shareholders to make a profit.
Luckily, then, that there are protections in place to ensure that consumers can expect to receive unbiased information about infant nutrition, right?
Indicator 3 of WBTi measures a country’s implementation of The World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (The WHO Code) and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions. This was created to protect breastfeeding from the unscrupulous tactics of profit-driven corporations and ensure substitutes are used safely only when needed. They are a set of guidelines that governments can legislate, monitor and enforce in accordance to a country’s own laws.
The Marketing in Australia of Infant Formulas (MAIF) Agreement is Australia’s interpretation of the WHO Code. It is a self-regulatory agreement between infant formula manufacturers and importers, and is overseen by the federal Department of Health and Aging. A breach of the guidelines cannot be legally enforced and any sanctions can only be applied to those businesses who are signatories to the agreement.
The MAIF agreement is unique to Australia and does offer some consumer protections. It restricts television and print advertisements for infant formula by formula manufacturers, thus reducing industry’s influence to undermine women who are breastfeeding. It also stops healthcare professionals from receiving gifts and money from infant formula manufacturers.
MAIF is, unfortunately, not enough because consumers still see infant formula promotions by retailers, toddler formula television and print ads are rampant, and parents can easily obtain samples of toddler formula at various baby expos or pharmacies. Health professionals are also open to influence through manufacturer-sponsored brochures and events, which creates a conflict of interest with regards to their education of infant and young child feeding.
Promotions and samples of breast-milk substitutes at baby expos are a particular issue. At these events, parents are bombarded with seeds of doubt from the moment they click on the ad or a sponsored post. What are they to do? Avoid the event because they only want to check out the baby carrier and could instead just buy it online, but miss out on connecting with other new parents?
Or go and walk out dizzy with self-doubt and fear that they’ll never be good enough if they don’t supply their kid with all that? And what about the toddler formula samples? Well, if a toddler needs it, surely an infant needs that too, right? And, what’s that, Omega 3 for brain development? Yeah, I read about that, you get that from fish…a newborn can’t eat fish…he’ll never get any Omega 3…that industrial powdered bovine fluid that I always teased my weight-lifting friend about because it gave him the worst-gas-ever, is starting to look appealing, even necessary… Hmm, what colour was that label again?
This has got to stop. It’s not about trade protections, it’s about consumer protections. Parents and children have the right to information about infant nutrition that is free from industry bias and seeds of doubt. It’s time to get real about public health and enact the full WHO Code and subsequent WHA resolutions with appropriate monitoring and enforcement that is free of industry influence.
Note: A mother’s milk is the biologically normal food for her child and is a dynamic composition (https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastmilk-coposition ) of stem cells, growth and immunity factors and nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, that continue to change to meet the needs of her child from birth to the age the mother-child dyad chooses to cease breastfeeding.
Mary is a women’s rights advocate, community organiser and a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. She’s based in the Northern Territory with her partner and young son.
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