When breast is best for babies
You wouldn’t rate baby formula as the basis for dirty corporate tactics but it obviously is – and dangerous too.
Chinese pirate formula merchants flogging off their suspect products as ‘‘ Made in NZ’’– even using John Key’s photo on some containers – while US embassy staff in Asia and big names in Washington put the case for formula corporates and their profit margins.
The story so far: This column revealed some weeks ago that US government lobbyists blocked a Philippine milk code intended to control advertising of alternative baby food.
The Philippines government believed banning major promotion of milk substitutes would save thousands of baby’s lives. American corporate opponents fought this and won because they feared banning major promotion of milk substitutes would cut US formula corporate profits and ‘‘didn’t mesh with US export policies’’.
What they wanted and got was a major breach of an accepted international trade rule and Unicef recommendations. At the expense of babies! Facts from the Wikileaks file showing how the campaign the US has fought for its formula corporates for years behind closed doors were republished here from Auckland Women’s Health Council’s newsletter.
Wikileaks document 05MANILA5839 International Code on Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes (called the Milk Code) opened the door on a typical top-secret meeting between the US economic counsellor in Manila and the under secretary of the Philippines Department of Health.
The US official asked the Philippines government and health officials to listen to the US makers before restricting promotion of baby formulas.
Across the table, the man from Philippines Health pointed to the high, early death rate from diarrhoea – 70 per cent of Philippines families exist without clean water, a priority for breastmilk alternatives.
And the World Health Organisation cited 16,000 children a year dying after what are euphemistically miscalled ‘‘inappropriate feeding practices’’, most before the children are five, with diarrhoea as a major killer.
The chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington – which represents three million businesses – wrote a letter to the president of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo: ‘‘These banning rules would have unintended negative consequences for investors’ confidence. The country’s reputation ‘as a stable and viable destination for investment is at risk’.’’
Four days later the Supreme Court in Manila reversed an earlier decision and legalised heavy promotion of breastmilk alternatives.
When Philippines Department of Health asked a senior government lawyer, Nestor Ballocillo, to contest the court order (he was a known trouble-maker to corporates – working on several contentious challenges to powerful vested interests at the time) he and his son were shot dead while walking from their home. The case remains unsolved.
Giant concerns like New Zealand’s Fonterra are commercially caught up in these formula issues – although there is no evidence they are involved in the newly revealed dirty diplomacy.
That column on this issue didn’t ‘‘go viral’’ but it did go international. –
Renee HeftiGraham, RN, lactation consultant, international breastfeeding advocate, Vancouver: ‘‘Thank you for your recent excellent column about US diplomats undermining breastfeeding in the Philippines. As a member of International Baby Food Action Network we have known this for years but it’s good that the story is now getting out.
‘‘Right on the heels of your story was the report that the US is trying to interfere with marketing codes in Vietnam. I am on a Lactnet, an international breastfeeding chat group (but most of the members are American).
‘‘I live in Canada and don’t understand US politics but I have found on the internet that the USAID has been partnering with chamber of commerces in many areas of the world since 2004.
‘‘The US (through the surgeon general and USAID, etc) is telling women to breastfeed but is refusing to step in since February when we notified them that Nestle had been given permission by the governor of Michigan and the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, to educate about breastfeeding and nutrition in medical schools, hospitals and communities.
‘‘Most US departments have not even responded to our many attempts to communicate. Nestle is offering their ‘free programme’ (they threw in $100,000 to the mayor of Newark) under the guise of targeting childhood obesity (highest obesity rates in the whole US are in Newark) and they say they plan to take their programme to other cities and states.
‘‘Formula is the major cause of childhood obesity. It appears that the US wants to be seen as saying the right things but really want the formula companies to profit.
to women and bad news for the health of their babies. The per capita income of Newark is $17,367 while the cost to purchase formula for one baby is about $200 per month. Crazy eh? (97 per cent of women can make enough good quality breastmilk to feed a single baby, twins or triplets!).’’
These are among the concerned responses when the Fairfax site published the column New Zealand-wide:
Mardi: ‘‘This makes me sick to my stomach to be an American. There is so much evidence that even in the US breastfed babies have better survival rates and are more protected from SIDS as well as obesity and childhood lymphomas and leukaemias. Human milk dampens inflammatory reactions in the gut, saving preemies and other infants from losing precious germinal cells of the gut. Oligosaccharides attach to bacteria so they cannot attach to the gut wall and are therefore washed out as waste. The number of immune and modulatory factors in human milk exceed the nutrient within it.’’
Liz Q: ‘‘Can you cite how and where the statistics are that show a lack of breastfeeding is causing thousands of deaths in children? Other studies I found show little difference in the deaths of bottle versus breastfed babies.’’
Barbara: ‘‘Thanks for writing on this important issue Pat. New Zealanders need to be made more aware of the massive human cost of our dairy industry’s complicity in undermining breastfeeding worldwide through the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes.
‘‘A mounting pile of evidence shows that there are indeed big differences in the morbidity and mortality outcomes of formula-fed versus breastfed babies.
‘‘This is true even in countries where with widespread clean water means that formula can be as safe as possible, as a US study found, ‘if 90 per cent of families complied with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the US would save $13 billion per year and prevent 911 deaths’.’’