GLOBAL – Infant formula industry has counteracted misleading impression laid forward by a series of papers on breastfeeding, published in The Lancet, that infant formula advertising and marketing strategies are the main factors limiting breastfeeding practices.

The three-paper series publication on breastfeeding accused infant formula manufacturers of irresponsible marketing and political lobbying for their benefit, rather than that of parent and child.

According to the secretary generals of International Special Dietary Foods Industries (ISDI) and Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), the papers create the impression that advertising is the main factor limiting breastfeeding and that any communication should be globally banned.

The papers, co-authored by WHO professor Nigel Rollins, indicated that commercial milk formula marketing contributes to reduced global breastfeeding practices by seeking to influence normative beliefs, values, and political and business approaches to establish environments that favour uptake and sales of infant formula.

As sales of commercial infant formula approach US$55bn (€50bn) annually, the paper authors stress more infants and young children are fed ultra-processed formula milks ‘than ever before’.

The papers argue that infant formula marketing oversimplifies parenting challenges, and manipulates and exploits emotions, aspirations, and scientific information to reshape individual, societal, and medical norms and values.

Infant formula manufacturers continue to knowingly and regularly violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions, believe the paper’s authors, who conclude that marketing of commercial milk formula should be banned.

It is widely acknowledged that ‘breast is best’. In both high- and low-income settings, breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both mothers and babies.

And yet, less than 50% of babies worldwide are breastfed according to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

Although the infant formula market in Africa is growing, unethical marketing practices have been one of the major factors limiting its potential for growth according to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

The majority of the growing African consumers are however fighting back against the practices by tightening laws to protect the health of mothers and children.

The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes was developed by the World Health Assembly back in 1981 following investigations into Nestlé’s marketing of formula milk in the Global South in the 1970s, where the food major was accused of causing infant illness and death in poor communities by promoting their infant formula products.

According to ISDI secretary general Kremer, an all-inclusive supportive ecosystem involving multiple stakeholders is required to encourage breastfeeding and to improve nutritional outcomes for mothers, infants and young children.

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