On Wednesday, the UN accused producers of substituting breast milk for “unethical” marketing strategies, “putting the interests of their partners ahead of the lives of children and public health.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have long advocated breastfeeding because of the long-term health benefits of mother and baby.
But according to an unpublished report, players in the sector, which represents $ 55 billion in sales (48 48.5 billion) a year, spend between $ 3 billion and 2.7 billion to 3. 3.4 billion. Decision of parents or pregnant women.
“This report clearly shows that the marketing of breast milk is widespread, deceptive and aggressive,” said WHO Director-General Tetros Adanom Caprese.
“We need strong policies, legislation and investments in breastfeeding to ensure that women are protected from immoral marketing practices,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Chairperson since February 1.
Dr. Nigel Rollins, a pediatrician who oversees research for the WHO, underscores that “we see marketing everywhere. We see different approaches, sometimes explicit, sometimes more focused on digital and sometimes health professionals are targeted for the power of their influence.” Interview.
Interviewed 8,500 parents and pregnant women and 300 health professionals in 8 countries (South Africa, Bangladesh, China, Morocco, Mexico, Nigeria, United Kingdom and Vietnam). Ratio.
In the United Kingdom, 84% of surveyed women report selling breast milk as an alternative, 92% in Vietnam and 97% in China.
Despite known health benefits, according to the WHO and UNICEF, only 44% of babies under 6 months are breastfed.
“Breastfeeding rates in the world have risen sharply over the past 20 years, while sales of these infant formulas have almost doubled over the same period,” the UN report said. Agencies underline.
“Mothers around the world say they only want the best for their baby (…) and career and marketing see it as a business opportunity,” laments Dr. Rollins.
“Producers use these moments when a baby is crying or not sleeping, it is very sad for the parents and we have the solution to your problems,” he explains. He insists that many of the arguments are pseudo-scientific, which is not the basis of any solid research, but that it helps to increase the margins.
The WHO and UNICEF are particularly concerned that manufacturers are targeting health workers who “approach new mothers to influence their recommendations.” The range is wide: free samples, promotional gifts, research funding, seminars, but sometimes profit sharing.
Respect the code
However, Dr. Rollins insists that it is not a question of removing baby milk store shelves, and that some parents have no choice. But he believes we must legislate to avoid wrong and misguided practices.
The World Health Organization, the WHO’s top decision – making body, has adopted a code of conduct since 1981, but for the most part it has not been amended or applied to national law.
Both UN agencies recommend breastfeeding support programs such as adequate maternity leave, but should ban the funding of health workers by these manufacturers.
WHO and Unicef urge manufacturers to publicly commit themselves to respecting ethics.
Nestl, the world’s number one breastfeeding substitute, has responded in advance, emphasizing that marketing practices vary greatly from one manufacturer to another.
The Swiss agricultural organization, which prides itself on having strictly regulated marketing practices in line with the code, says it is in favor of “adopting laws related to the marketing of infant milk in all countries” and is ready to discuss it. UNICEF and the WHO, among others, said in a statement to the AFP.
The Vevey Group reminds that 163 countries do not promote breastmilk substitutes for babies aged 0 to 12 months and would like to stop doing so globally for babies aged 0-6 months by the end of this year, which could affect the United States. , Japan and Canada too.