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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 06:47 GMT
Baby milk marketing 'breaks rules'
Baby with bottle
Formula milk standards are being flouted, the report said

A study in the British Medical Journal says manufacturers of powdered baby milk substitutes are violating international codes when selling their product to West Africans.

The research was carried out in Togo - a country without legislation on the marketing of breast milk substitutes - and also in Burkina Faso which has such legislation.

The results show the marketing code is being ignored at similar levels in both countries.

African baby
African babies are often fed powdered baby milk substitutes
In 1982 the World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substances, which sets out a minimum standard to ensure the proper use of formula milk.

This latest research looked at health facilities, sales outlets, distribution points and the media in parts of West Africa.

The researchers found the code had been violated by 40 products, many made by national and international manufacturers like Danone and Nestle.

Some companies failed to include a statement about the health benefits of breastfeeding, or instructions for the appropriate preparation or storage of formula milk, or a warning against the health hazards of inappropriate use.

Obligation to comply

There were no instructions to help mothers make up the milk.

Governments are supposed to make sure there is effective information, training, and monitoring systems to ensure the code is upheld.

The authors of the new report say manufacturers have an obligation to comply with the standards of the code.

But they found 90% of health providers have never heard of the code, and almost two-thirds of mothers had never received any advice on breastfeeding.

The research has fuelled the debate over the moral issues concerning breast milk supplements in developing countries, with paediatricians renewing calls for protection of breastfeeding from commercial exploitation.

Company reaction

In Paris, Danone said in a statement it was "particularly surprised" by the allegations and said that only three of the 21 products named in the article were covered by the code of conduct.

Since 1998, these three products have all carried labelling that highlighted the benefits of breast milk, it said.

In Vevey, Switzerland, Nestle spokesman Francois-Xavier Perroud warned the company would scrutinise the allegations and would take "the necessary steps" if it found any errors.

The company had always respected the code, he said, adding that the products identified in the study appeared to be food supplements, such as cereals, and not breast milk substitutes.

  The BBC's Ania Lichtarowicz
"The researchers found that the code had been violated by forty products"
See also:

02 Sep 02 | Health
07 Jun 02 | Breakfast
18 Dec 02 | Business
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