23 February 2017
This week, Alison Thewliss MP has published a bill designed to ensure that parents receive clear, scientific and factual information about formula milk. The Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertising and Promotion) Bill aims to tighten the regulations around the marketing of food for babies, protecting parents from misleading advertising and helping them to make informed choices around feeding their children.
Why is this legislation needed?
What babies are fed has a profound effect on their present and future health. All parents need accurate and impartial information in order to make the best choices for their baby. Contrary to WHO recommendations, the current UK regulations around formula marketing are weak and allow companies to heavily advertise their products and make inaccurate, biased and misleading claims about the nutritional value of their milks.
For example, whilst “first” infant formula is suitable for most formula fed babies for the first year of life, companies have developed a vast and confusing array of other milks (including “follow on” and “growing up”) to encourage parents to spend more money on their products. These other milks are subject to much weaker regulations than “first milk”; companies often try to make their products stand out by adding extra ingredients, the need for and safety of which can be unclear. Without independent, rigorous testing of all formula milks, parents are left with inaccurate and often contradictory information. The new legislation calls for a number of actions to tackle this, including:
- Unbiased testing: Establishing a body, totally independent of industry, to test all products and verify the claims of manufacturers prior to them being licensed for sale
- Clear packaging: Regulating packaging to ensure nutritional, storage and preparation information is clear and accurate. Ensuring parents understand the difference between milks by banning identical packaging on first, stage two and subsequent products
- Facts, not adverts, for health professionals and parents: Prohibiting formula companies from advertising in health journals and magazines, and banning advertising of formula milks on TV, social media, the internet and through parenting clubs.
Information without advertising: where to turn
A key aim of this bill is to ensure that formula feeding parents receive unbiased information. Instead of getting information from adverts, which by definition are biased towards the merits of one particular product, parents should be able to access externally verified facts from health professionals and independent organisations about what’s in their formula.
The Baby Friendly Initiative standards require that health professionals support formula and bottle feeding parents by providing factual information about different types of milk, making up feeds and moving onto solids. Such information can be found in the Department of Health’s Guide to Bottle Feeding, our formula feeding resources and First Steps Nutrition Trust’s formula milk reports.
By calling for independent verification of formula messages, this bill champions evidence-based information for parents, driven by facts not profit.