29 May 2020
A new report by Unicef, WHO and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) says countries are still falling short in protecting parents from misleading information and harmful promotion of breastmilk substitutes.
We welcome this report and its important findings. All countries have a duty to protect families from misleading and inaccurate marketing messages that could harm the health and wellbeing of babies and their mothers. This is particularly important during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic when breastfeeding is vital and when health systems are working hard to maintain minimum standards.
In the UK, we continue to have inadequate legislation to control the unethical marketing of breastmilk substitutes, which still leaves many families vulnerable. Fortunately, all four UK governments support and encourage implementation of the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative into all relevant healthcare services. This means that there is very little advertising to parents via the healthcare system and very little free or low-cost supplies. However, there are still many loopholes in the law which allow manufacturers to influence health professionals through education and research opportunities. Additionally, there is direct advertising to parents via the general media because of a failure to legislate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes for babies over six months of age. There is also a woeful lack of monitoring and enforcement of the law that does exist.
We call on the UK government to strengthen UK legislation to bring this fully in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and all subsequent WHA resolutions and then to put in place adequate monitoring and enforcement of such legislation.