March 16, 2006
Nestlé Using Deadly Labels in South Asia
Another shocking example of Nestlé’s disastrous and negligent marketing practices has surfaced in Laos. Dr. Leila Srour, one of INFACT Canada’s colleagues in the region, has reported visiting a village in the Southeast Asian country and finding a mother there gravely ill. In an email to INFACT, Dr. Srour related:
“Sadly, she died of unknown cause, perhaps tuberculosis. The couple have eight children, including a 5 month old…(Relatives) were giving a supplement by bottle. They brought me…a can, embossed with Nestle…The community development person assured me that these cans have "the picture", so they knew that this milk is for babies.”
Tragically however, despite being marked with “the picture” Nestlé uses on its infant formula products, a logo of a cartoon bear, the bottle that relatives were feeding the infant did not contain infant formula, but rather a substance called “Sweetened Beverage Creamer.” This creamer is intended to be used to flavour coffee, and is wholly nutritionally inadequate for an infant. Incredibly, Nestlé is marketing the product to a population with a high incidence of illiteracy using a logo almost identical to the one on its infant formula packages.
This is the logo Nestlé uses in Laos on coffee creamers, condensed milk, and baby formula. This particular product is utterly nutritionally inadequate as a breastmilk substitute, yet depicts a mother and baby bear in the breastfeeding pose on its label.
The label on the beverage creamer shows a mother bear cradling a baby bear, which clearly would lead many parents to assume that the product was made to feed to infants, especially after seeing similar cartoons on Nestlé formula packages. The label bears a message asserting that “Sweetened Beverage Creamer is not to be used as a breast milk substitute,” but as 39% of Laotian women are unable to read, this is hardly an adequate measure to prevent misuse. Furthermore, the warning is written in Lao, English, and Thai, but many people in rural Laos do not speak any of these languages.
Feeding babies on this unnutritious product for any period of time could cause grave and irreversible health problems, including brain damage and death. The Bear Brand label also appears on other products that could easily be mistaken for breastmilk substitutes, such as condensed and evaporated milk. By using these labels, Nestlé has exhibited a reckless disregard for infant health, and the consequences will likely be severe. Infants could easily die as a result, if some already haven’t. Dr. Srour reports:
“The Bear Brand Sweetened Beverage Creamer travels to the most distant parts of Laos, even remote mountain villages…The Bear Brand coffee creamer is now a very well recognized (breastmilk) substitute used by many parents…In the capital city, infants with severe malnutrition have been identified, who have been fed this product as a substitute so their mothers could return to work.”
Either Nestlé’s actions are a result of what can only be called criminal incompetence, or it is insidiously trying to sell its creamer to mothers who are unable to afford expensive formula. Please write to Nestlé and urge them to put an end to this deadly scenario. Write your own letter or personalize INFACT’s below.
Send emails to:
Nestle Thailand (manufacturers of Bear Brand): goodfood.nestle@th.Nestle.com
Nestle Canada: visit http://www.nestle.ca/en/Talk_to_Nestle/Contact_Us/contact_us.htm and cut and paste a letter into the contact box.
Send mail to:
Vice President, Corporate Affairs
25 Sheppard Ave. W.
North York, ON
It has recently been brought to our attention that your company is marketing products such as coffee sweeteners and condensed and evaporated milk in Laos using Bear Brand labels showing a mother and baby bear. Given the fact that Nestlé’s infant formula products are also marked with a cartoon bear and there are high rates of illiteracy in the region, we at INFACT Canada find it hard to see how Nestlé does not consider the Bear Brand labels a danger to public.
INFACT Canada has received reports that Bear Brand products are widely mistaken as breastmilk substitutes. Obviously, babies cannot survive on coffee sweetener. Extremely malnourished infants have been turning up in hospitals in Laos after being fed your products. It is very likely some have died.
Nestlé cannot allow this to continue. It would be very easy for the company to save lives by replacing the logo with something more appropriate and infinitely less dangerous. In Thailand, the same products bear logos of coffee cups, eliminating any confusion. Simply placing warnings on the products that they are not to be used as breastmilk substitutes is not enough, as 39% of Laotian women are unable to read. This rate is higher in rural areas.
We appeal to your conscience in imploring you to do something about this situation. Innocent lives are being ruined by what we can only hope is a case of unintentionally dangerous marketing. We sincerely hope that the labels are not being used to entice impoverished mothers to buy products that are unsafe but much cheaper than infant formulas. Such deliberate exploitation of the poverty and illiteracy of the Laotian people would be an injustice of the gravest kind.
We demand that Nestlé replace the logo on their Bear Brand products, and launch an educational campaign to inform Laotian parents on the dangers of using such products as breastmilk substitutes. If Nestlé fails to do so, your company will be knowingly contributing to the deaths of unkown numbers of Laotian infants.
Nestlé Boycott Coordinator