The Berkeley Media Studies Group has just released a “Framing Brief” with “how-to” advice for breastfeeding advocates. The Brief argues that babies’ health is not a sufficient reason to get moms to breastfeed.
Instead, advocates need to help create environments that support breastfeeding.
This and a previous report on breastfeeding issues, “Talking about Breastfeeding,” were commissioned by the California WIC Association with support from The California Endowment.
That these reports come none too soon is evident from a recent commentary that the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (“the Code”) has become ineffectual.
The Code is an international agreement about what infant formula companies can and cannot ethically do to promote their products, based on substantial research that infant formula marketing undermines breastfeeding.
According to the study in the Archives of Diseases of Children, the Code has become
mired by a series of alleged violations and boycotts, which are counter productive to the code’s goal….[These include an] unrelenting series of disputes, predominantly relating to alleged violations of the code, which have provoked high profile acrimonious exchanges, boycotts and legal proceedings…[leading] to an atmosphere of mistrust that has now become embedded between key agencies.
The author focuses on disputes between the non-governmental group Baby Milk Action and infant formula manufacturer Nestlé (no relation). He recommends that an “ombudsman” or some other independent body be given authority “to arbitrate and ensure that actions taken by respective parties are in keeping with the spirit of the code.”
This is not a bad idea—if the body is truly independent. Take a look at the Baby Milk Action website and judge for yourself whether you think the group makes a compelling case for Code violations. Some of them seem pretty obvious to me.
As I recount in Food Politics, infant formula companies have a long pre-Code history of putting sales before infant health. Almost everyone I know thinks the situation has improved post-Code, but not nearly enough.
As I explain in What to Eat, formula companies have a business-model problem: there are only so many infants born each year and they only use formula for a limited time.
The companies only have two choices for growth: recruit more babies onto formula or extend the period of formula feeding. The first strategy was well documented pre-Code and continues to be documented. The second is illustrated by the now withdrawn product, chocolate toddler formula Enfagrow (see previous posts).
Breastfeeding advocates: read the new reports and get busy!
Update, July 31: Patty Rundall of Baby Milk Action has written a rebuttal to the commentary. Other ideas? You can forward them to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.