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Simplify the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations

Comment 23rd July 2010

The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations were revised in 2006, but the last government ignored the advice of Trading Standards officers, LACORS, its own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and other health experts by failing to bring the measures into line with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly.

Doing so, would save the taxpayer many millions of pounds by reducing expenditure on treating illness associated with poor and misleading information from baby milk companies and by making the operations of Trading Standards more efficient.

The last government commissioned a review on the operation of the law which commented on shortcomings in the law and concluded there need to be 'steps taken to address these'.

Why does this matter?

The World Health Assembly adopted marketing standards for breastmilk substitutes in 1981 to protect breastfeeding and to ensure breastmilk substitutes are used safely if needed. 

Although these measures were adopted as minimum standards for all countries to be implemented in their entirety, they have not been implemented in the UK. Companies are required to abide by the provisions independently of other measures, but do not do so.

Companies endanger babies fed on formula by refusing to provide accurate information on risks of possible contamination of powdered formula with harmful bacteria and the simple steps required to reduce these risks.

Companies undermine breastfeeding by making bogus claims about formula, such as suggesting it builds the immune system. In reality, the taxpayer could save a fortune by stopping such promotion and better supporting breastfeeding. According to the government's own National Institute for Clinical Excellence a modest increase in breastfeeding rates would save the health service money, including through preventing:

" about 17,000 cases of otitis media avoided at a saving of £509,000.

" almost 3900 cases of gastroenteritis being avoided, at a saving of £2.6 million

" over 1500 cases of asthma being avoided, at a saving of £2.6 million.

" a reduction in the cost of teats and formula of £102,000"

In addition, there would be savings to the enforcement authorities, such as Trading Standards. According to a review commissioned by the last government into the operation of the law, Trading Standards and the umbrella body, LACORS, reported: "One of the major problems for enforcement officers is the use of advertising and promotional material which blurs the distinction between follow-on formula and infant formula."

The government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition advised during the consultation on the Regulations that the ban on promotion of infant formula also apply to follow-on formula, as well as calling for health claims to be prohibited. Doing so would make the jobs of Trading Standards far easier, while protecting public health.

The Independent Review Panel stated in its report, published in March 2010: "any ban on the advertising of follow-on formula, is a decision for policy makers, who if sufficiently concerned could consider the precautionary principle."

Given the large sums that could be saved by simplifying the law in this way, and the health benefits to babies, the most vulnerable of our population, revising the law should be a matter of urgency. The required changes were clearly stated by relevant experts during the last government's consultation. The new government can quickly and easily correct these failings and save the taxpayer money.

Further information at: http://info.babymilkaction.org/pressrelease/pressrelease11mar10a

This links to the submission made to the consultation by the Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK health worker and mother support organsiations. This is fully referenced to studies by NICE and other experts and sets out the changes required to bring the law into line with the International Code and subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions.

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