Fattening the bottom line
Who is monitoring Mead Johnsonís health claims?
Mead Johnsonís hard-line marketing for its fat-altered formulas has those working with pregnant women and new mother-baby pairs enraged.
One nurse/lactation consultant writes: "Öour formula is supplied by Mead Johnson. The company has informed us that they will be only supplying Enfamil A+ versus Enfalac With Iron. We have many concerns about this, not only from a service contract perspective, but also from an ethical/moral perspective. Can you enlighten me about Health Canadaís process whereby they have approved this formula? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated as we are really angry at Mead Johnsonís handling of this and want to stand our ground on this issue."
Others too are venting their anger as the Mead Johnson promos and formulas make fraudulent nutrition and health claims, positing their product to be like breastmilk. And importantly they ask, where is Health Canada? Who is regulating these claims?
Mothers too are feeling the heat. Mary Siever of Lethbridge, in a letter to Mead Johnson writes, "This weekend I noticed three advertisements for your formula A+. At first I thought this was the individual stores only, but after seeing your little blurb about how it increases IQ, I realised this must be a promotion of Enfalac (Mead Johnson). As I am sure you are VERY aware, advertising, marketing of breastmilk substitutes is in direct violation of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes."
And what about Health Canada?A letter to INFACT Canada, from Anne McLellan, Minister responsible for Health Canada, dated January 28, 2003, clearly spells out what Mead Johnson may not do.
"The Food and Drugs Act prohibits the labeling or advertising of any food in a Ďmanner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety.í "
Yet, we ask, who is minding the store? How is it that these claims and labeling infractions, which so obviously violate the Food and Drugs Act, are made with audacity and seemingly without penalty? Should they not be accountable to Canadaís laws and regulations and especially the high cost of infant illness attributed to their products?
Mead Johnson will expect its market share to increase as it turns up the heat in its campaign to compete with breastfeeding. It also expects to increase its bottom line by increasing the cost of its product. A cost comparison in Canada of the altered formulas to other routine formulas, shows a retail price increase of 20 to 30 per cent [see chart above]. Mothers, thinking they are buying the best formula for their babies, will purchase these price-inflated formulas, not understanding the emptiness of the claims.
In the US, the product is priced from 15 to 30 per cent higher than comparable infant formulas.
Questions of efficacy continue
In the USA where the Lipil-enhanced formulas were first launched, the ability of these formulas to perform as claimed has been questioned. In a briefing document the California WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Association raises this question: "The hypothesis is that formulas enhanced with DHA and ARA may promote improved visual and mental development outcomes in formula- fed babies more similar to breast-fed babies. However, research also indicates that infants can synthesize DHA and ARA from other precursor dietary components, namely linoleic and linolenic acids. Research cited by Mead Johnsonís competitor, the Ross Company, shows similar outcomes with their standard and lipid-supplemented formulas.
"No long-term studies have been completed to confirm the need for lipid enhancement and the absence of adverse effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed the formulas with a request that formula companies continue long-term studies."
Further, the WIC Association raises the following concern:formulas have the potential to affect the health, growth and development of a large population. Therefore, decisions must be based on sound and conclusive scientific evidence.
Possibility of negatively affecting breastfeeding rates
WIC is concerned that the lipid-enhanced formulas will be a disincentive to breastfeed, if parents perceive them to be interchangeable with breast milk. WICís primary goal in infant feeding is to promote breastfeeding. Unfortunately, some parents assume that lipid-enhanced formulas are "breast milk formula." They think that Enfamil Lipil is made from breast milk, or is "just like breast milk." They may not realize that infant formula does not replicate the unique benefits of breast milk. These misperceptions may weaken parentsí motivation to breastfeed their infants.
And what does Mead Johnson tell those who question their claims?
"We want to assure you that the health of infants is first and foremost in Mead Johnsonís business practices and that Mead Johnson Nutritionals endorse and support breastfeeding as the superior form of infant nutrition in all of our marketing activities. The intent behind the promotion of Enfamil A+ is not to persuade mothers to bottle-feed, nor to suggest in any way that formula feeding is superior, easier, less costly or more socially acceptable."
óMead Johnsonís Lynda Scullion,
Consumer Resources Centre, to Mary Siever, January 22, 2003
Mead Johnson recall of formulas with altered fats
Mead Johnsonís new formula which has already come under severe criticism in the US because of increased gastrointestinal side effects, came under product recall there recently. The product was found to be contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii, a virulent pathogen that can cause sepsis, meningitis, or necrotizing enterocolitis in newborn infants, particularly premature infants, or infants with weakened immune systems.
Mead Johnsonís product under recall is a formula the company recommends for premature infants.
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