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Last Updated: Monday, 6 August 2007, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Baby milk ads 'should be banned'
Baby drinking from a bottle
The charities want women to get impartial information
A coalition of charities is demanding baby milk be treated like tobacco and subjected to a total advertising ban.

The National Childbirth Trust, Save The Children and Unicef say the current partial ban is not enough, and parents have been left confused.

They want the government to extend a ban on infant milk adverts to include "follow-on" milks for older babies.

England's policy on the promotion of formula milk is currently being reviewed by the Food Standards Agency.

At present, companies are not allowed to advertise formula milk for babies under six months.

But they are allowed to promote so-called follow-on milks, a range for children aged between six months and two years.

Many mothers feel an immense sense of guilt and failure when they move on to the bottle, and this latest debate about advertising is likely to make them feel even worse
Dr Ellie Lee
University of Kent

The charities accuse baby milk companies of using their follow-on milks to promote their products for younger infants by giving them the same name and logo so as to make them "virtually indistinguishable" to parents.

"In similar ways to how tobacco companies found their way through loopholes in legislation restricting the advertising of cigarette promotion, formula milk companies are finding ways to exploit ambiguity in the law and to continue aggressively marketing their products to parents," says Belinda Phipps of the NCT.

'Sense of guilt'

The World Health Organization recommends that babies are given breast milk exclusively for the first six months, and that a mother should continue to breastfeed up to the age of two years.

The charities note that those children who are breastfed are better protected from infections and potentially from even more serious conditions later on in life.

Formula milk companies are finding ways to exploit ambiguity in the law and to continue aggressively marketing their products to parents
Belinda Phipps
NCT

At present, some 76% of UK mothers start out breastfeeding - up 7% from 2000.

However most move on to formula within weeks, and fewer than half still breastfeed by the time their child is six weeks old.

By six months, only 25% of mothers are breastfeeding at all.

But Dr Ellie Lee of the University of Kent who has researched women's experiences of infant feeding said the impact of advertising on the decision to switch from breast to bottle was "negligible".

In a study of mothers commissioned by The Infant and Dietetic Foods Association (IDFA), Dr Lee found that the decision to bottle feed was a "pragmatic decision based on personal circumstances".

"Some do it because of the pain of feeding or so they can feed their child at more regular intervals, some so they can share responsibility for feeding the baby, others because they are thinking of going back to work.

"Many mothers feel an immense sense of guilt and failure when they move on to the bottle, and this latest debate about advertising is likely to make them feel even worse."

EU recommendations

It has also been suggested that the increasing reluctance of health professionals to discuss formula milk as an option may mean some parents are not aware of the thorough sterilisation of feeding equipment that is needed to limit the risk of infection.

The Food Standards Agency is currently working on new regulations for the promotion of formula milk which would take into account the latest EU directive.

The charities involved in the report want the FSA to agree to a ban, noting that the new European recommendations in particular stress that information on formula "should not counter the promotion of breast feeding".

It is unclear whether a ban is likely, but it is thought that companies will no longer be able to make claims about similarity to breast milk on their packets under new restrictions.

A number of companies have slogans such as "even closer to breast milk", "the closest to breast milk" on their packaging, pointing to the fatty acids and probiotic bacteria found in breast milk that are included in the ingredients.


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Why some are calling for a ban on baby milk advertising



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