The Government is being urged to step up its regulation of the marketing of infant formula.
La Leche League New Zealand, the country's leading breastfeeding support group, wants the Government to take the lead in protecting breastfeeding by moving from a voluntary code to full implementation of the the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions, which regulate industry practice to protect babies' lives, health and wellbeing.
"New Zealand's lack of protection of optimal infant and young child nutrition remains shameful," says LLLNZ's Director Alison Stanton. "We would like to see the New Zealand Government take the lead in contemporary global infant feeding issues. The Government needs to pay more than just lip service to protecting breastfeeding and to the International Code," she adds.
The call follows comments by Fonterra Chief Executive Andrew Ferrier that the formula industry is very concerned about special interest groups in developing countries like the Philippines, promoting breastfeeding only - rather than formula feeding.
Fears that formula companies are doing all they can to work against the efforts of the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health in such countries as the Philippines have led LLLNZ's Board of Consultants to take the unprecedented step of writing to Mr Ferrier urging Fonterra to look to its industry responsibilities under the International Code.
"To imply that the formula industry is being unfairly treated, especially in developing countries, is outrageous," says Alison Stanton. "Hundreds of thousands of babies die around the world each year because they are not breastfed. Breastfeeding is not about profits - unlike the artificial baby milk industry whose marketing undermines breastfeeding and results in health hazards and increased risk of infant mortality and morbidity, especially in these developing countries. From our long experience of counselling thousands of mothers wanting to breastfeed their babies, we are distressingly well aware of the influence that formula marketing can have on the decisions that mothers make around infant feeding and the environment in which they make those decisions."
This year the World Health Assembly (WHA) called for an end to all forms of inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children and for nutrition and health claims not to be permitted on these foods. This WHA resolution recognises the core importance of breastfeeding in reducing child mortality. The WHO Secretariat Report stated: "Breastfeeding is today the single most effective preventative intervention for improving the survival and health of children."
In its letter to Mr Ferrier LLLNZ's Board of Consultants says: "Breastfeeding is about more than nutrition and food. Infant immune protection and immune system development are dependent on breastfeeding, which supplies essential support from the mother's immune system.1 Breastmilk is a living substance that is unable to be replicated artificially and it provides specific environmental protection to the infant via breastfeeding.
Stuebe & Schwarz (2009) estimate that 1.45 million infant lives are lost annually due to suboptimal breastfeeding in 'developing countries'.2 Stuebe & Schwarz confirm that infant feeding decisions significantly affect mother-child health outcomes globally, even in settings with clean water and good sanitation. Non-breastfed infants are exposed to increased risk of infections as well as non-infectious morbidity and mortality.3 Interrupted breastfeeding and inappropriate complementary feeding heighten the risk of malnutrition, illness and mortality and this is exacerbated in emergency and disaster situations."4
The LLLNZ Board of Consultants goes on to request a meeting with the Fonterra boss to discuss "these vitally important issues".
The Ministry of Health has started a process to review the implementation and monitoring of the Code in New Zealand. LLLNZ believes this a perfect time for the Government to take the initiative to fully support the International Code.
Says Alison Stanton: "New Zealand's integrity is at stake when on one hand the Ministry of Economic Development is heralding infant formula as a standout "star" because of its export growth while on the other the Ministry of Health is into the third year of its breastfeeding campaign. The challenge for the New Zealand Government is to develop rigorous legislative, regulatory and other effective measures to control the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in order to protect the health of our youngest citizens."
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