World Health Assembly 2002 rejects commercial
influence in infant feeding programmes
“Recognizing that infant and young child mortality can be reduced by exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding with safe and adequate amounts of local foods, up to the age of two years and beyond;”
Protecting breastfeeding from commercial influences was a critical quest at this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva. After a lengthy debate, WHA Resolution 55.25 emerged without the controversial commercial participation by the baby food industry that was proposed in the original draft. The final resolution had much more positive language to support the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
A number of items relating to infant and young child nutrition came before the assembly this year – the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding; WHA Resolution 55.25; and Progress on the Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. IBFAN representatives, including Elisabeth Sterken from INFACT Canada, had a number of concerns related to the documents before the Assembly. Both the Global Strategy and the proposed Resolution 55.25 included elements that would sanction industry participation in the implementation of infant nutrition programming. IBFAN’s position has
always been that the commercial interests of the baby foods industries should not play a role in infant nutrition programming.
IBFAN was also critical of the vague and undefined wording throughout the texts, which used, “optimal nutrition practices”, rather than the specific language of “exclusive breastfeeding for six months.”
There was much support, particularly from developing countries, for the critical language of exclusive breastfeeding for six months and the removal of the infant foods industries from involvement in infant nutrition program implementation.
The end result was a newer and stronger resolution.
The delegate from India called for the removal of commercial influences and noted that, “Commercial enterprises by definition are profit driven entities. It is neither appropriate nor realistic for the WHO to expect that commercial groups will work along with governments and other groups to protect, support and promote breastfeeding.”
He also drew attention to the 1996 WHA Resolution 49.15, which urges Member States to ensure that financial support for professionals working in infant and young child health does not create conflict of interest. Many of these concerns were reiterated by a number of other countries.
Two other critical concerns arose from the infant feeding proposals before the Assembly: the accessibility of safe local complementary foods and apprehension about the increased use of micronutrient interventions at the expense of programmes to support exclusive breastfeeding. (See: Microsoft goes Micronutrient).
In the end, to minimize the potential negative impact of reliance on micronutrients as well as the effects of their marketing, an operative clause was inserted into the Resolution (WHA 55.25 – 2. (4)):
“To ensure that the introduction of micronutrient interventions and the marketing of nutritional supplements do not replace, or undermine support for the sustainable practice of, exclusive breastfeeding and optimal complementary feeding.”
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