Summer 97 Newsletter INFACT Canada

Nutrition Montreal 97

Nutritionists blasted for Nestlé sponsorshipMajor sponsors

Breastfeeding organizations expressed their anger at organizers of the International Congress of Nutrition of three thousand nutritionists from around the world who recently gathered in Montreal for accepting funds from Nestlé as one of three major sponsors to the Congress. At a press conference, July 28, 1997, organized by INFACT Canada, its Quebec chapter and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) they urged the International Union of Nutrition Scientists to stop accepting funds from the infant food and infant formula industries. “Breaking the financial bonds between the infant food products industry and nutrition professionals and their associations would prevent needless infant and young child illness, malnutrition and death,” they declared.

Stephen LewisSupported in their efforts, Stephen Lewis, executive deputy director of UNICEF, presented a keynote address in which he praised the importance of breastfeeding and outlined UN programs to support it. Chastising nutritionists for accepting corporate sponsorships from the likes of Nestlé, Wyeth and Ross, he told them there is no justification for nutritionists of all people taking money from companies that peddle milk powder–“Remember, the World Health Organization has indicated explicitly that between 1 million and 1.5 million infants a year die because they are not breastfed.”

And Nestlé’s response? According to Richard Black, public relations for Nestlé, “The problem with infant formula isn’t that it isn’t nutritional. It’s that, in the developing world especially, it is inappropriately prepared, under unhygienic conditions.” (passing the buck–while making it).

Further in a CBC radio interview, Lewis commented, “I don’t think, frankly, that marketing schemes which look to profit from products which are prohibited by an international code, I don’t think that should be supported by nutritionists.”

What does infant food industry money buy?

Participation by professional associations in the direct marketing of artificial feeding products

Recently, a CPS endorsement letter from Executive VP Victor Marchessault, was found in Mead Johnson gift packs containing two tins of formula. “Like all parents, you have countless questions about baby’s health and safety. That’s why the CPS is pleased to work with Mead Johnson Canada to bring you vital infant care information.” In an interview with Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsberg, Marchessault admitted that the CPS received money for this promotion.

Recommendations to close human milk banks in Canada

Access to human milk for some high needs infants is essential to their survival–infants who are at high risk because of prematurity, failure to thrive, renal failure, malabsorption, feeding intolerance, sepsis, inborn errors of metabolism, or allergies. In 1995 the Nutrition Committee of the CPS recommended that human milk banks be discontinued in Canada. This recommendation was made dispite the growth of human milk banks in other industrialized countries. This means parents may have to see a child die because of inability of physicians to prescribe donor human milk.

Redefining infant feeding and nutritional treatments to meet marketing objectives

The CPS seems to be able to suck money from every available teat. Meshing diagnosis, treatment and marketing objectives, a Ross-CPS partnership produced a four-page flyer on infant diarrhea directed at new parents (this is hardly a problem in Canada where breastfeeding rates are making a comeback). Pedialyte, made by Ross is the promoted cure, with not a mention of breastmilk as the way to prevent and treat infant gastro problems.

Participating in research to support product promotion claims

Infant nutrition research scientists receive considerable amounts of money for product performance research. The results are then used to make product claims, usually misleading, as was recently demonstrated during the court challenge of Ross’ overblown “providing benefits similar to breastmilk.” The research cited reported on feeding trials but made no comparisons to breastfed controls. In the end the court put a restraint on the “offending” representations.

What should be done?

  • Professional associations should recognize their obligations under the International Code.
    They can educate their members about their role in compliance to the articles of the code; monitor their professional practices acceding to the requirements of the Code and take corrective measures to ensure full compliance to the aims and principles of the Code.
  • Nutrition researchers, nutritionists and their professional associations terminate their financial dependency on the infant feeding products industry; terminate their endorsements of and participation in product promotions; terminate the industry representation in position statements on infant feeding; develop ethical standards for conducting research on infant feeding products and how the results are used.
  • The infant feeding products industry must stop its systematic and deliberate attempts to disrupt and undermine breastfeeding. It must commit itself to full compliance to the International Code, including monitoring its marketing practices and taking steps to ensure that any infractions are summarily dealt with.
  • Health Canada must take seriously its endorsement of the International Code and subsequent resolutions dealing with infant and young child nutrition at the World Health Assembly and legislate the regulation of the infant feeding products industry.
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