Nestlé silent on alleged Indian law violations but defends breast-milk substitutes marketing

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Breastfeeding Infant formula

Nestlé silent on alleged Indian law violations but defends breast-milk substitutes marketing
Nestlé has declined to comment to on an Indian government letter stating that it is violating the nation’s laws on sponsorship of health workers, but has fought back against allegations of inappropriate marketing for breast milk substitutes.

An Indian government letter sent to the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) dated March 7, takes Nestle to task for allegedly targeting health workers.

Dr Sheeranjan, from the Indian Ministry of Women & Child Development wrote: “In our opinion…such actives are violative of the [Indian Law – the Infant Milk Substitutes Act].

“I draw your kind attention to another letter date December 29 2010 sent by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to your organisation and others, expressing that ‘IMS Act clearly prohibits sponsorship of health workers or their association directly or indirectly by the Infant Food manufacturing companies.”

UK-based breast milk advocacy movement Baby Milk Action (BMA) also alleges that Nestlé’s Nan 1 infant formula breached the Indian Infant Milk Substitutes Act that outlaws “pictures or other graphic material or phrases designed to increase the saleability of infant milk substitutes or infant food”.

In addition, the BMA said this month that Nestle quietly weakened its internal policy on marketing breast milk substitutes in July 2010 – which it insists that the firm violates in an case – limiting a marketing ban in countries of its choosing to formula and follow-on for infants up to 12 months old but excluding growing-up milks.

BMA campaign coordinator Mike Brady told “Recently, we were preparing information on the Armenian market [where Nestle is advertising growing-up milk Nan 3] and we thought ‘this violates Nestle’s own instructions’…then we had a look and saw the change had been made in 2010.”

But Chris Hogg, Nestle’s deputy head of corporate media relations, told this publication that the Nestle strongly supported breastfeeding. However, the firm produced breast-milk substitutes for those women who chose not to breastfeed or were unable to do so.

He added that Nestle was committed to complying with the 1981 World Health Organisation (WHO)Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, as implemented in national legislation worldwide, and followed the code or national laws – “whichever are stricter” ​in the 152 countries worldwide with high child mortality and malnutrition rates.

Nestle had “rigorous internal procedures”​ in place to ensure compliance, including internal audits and a whistle-blowing procedure and was open to external audits, Hogg said.

“We have been recognised to have the industry’s toughest system in place for ensuring that our breast-milk substitutes are marketed appropriately.”

Nestle was committed to transparency and took all concerns regarding its infant food marketing practices seriously, Hogg added, investigating and responding to all allegations of non-compliance with the WHO code, its own policies or national legislation implementing the WHO code.

“This applies to concerns raised by Baby Milk Action and other organisations,” ​he added.

But Brady – who raised BMA’s concerns at Nestle’s AGM yesterday – dismissed what he called the firm’s “standard response”​, and disputed Nestle’s claim in its 2012 Creating Shared Value​ report that only 19 complaints of non-compliance with the WHO code were raised in 2011 and all were acted upon.

He said: “Categorically, they do not act upon the violations that we report, except on the occasions when run campaigns and they receive thousands of emails. But I made the point yesterday that they need to make systemic changes – not just when there’s an email campaign.”

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