When breast is best for ba­bies

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

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.

‘‘This

is not

fair

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’.’’

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