Here’s another example why we, as parents, must be vigilant and watch out for the unethical marketing practices of milk companies.

Wyeth’s Aquiva has embarked on a very aggressive marketing campaign targeting schools through their “School Caravan” program.  They give out big cans of Aqiva powdered milk to students aged 4-7 years old.  N who is 4 and my nephew who is 7 got one.  N goes to a school in Manila while my nephew J goes to a school in Mandaluyong.  Another mom also reported that her child, who goes to a school in Quezon City, also received Aqiva.  Along with the Aqiva sample, Wyeth included a letter from its nutrionist, Mary Jude B. Icasiano and a survey form on picky eating.

Check out these boxes and boxes of milk samples at N’s school.

Meanwhile, here’s the sampling from my nephew’s school.

The question now is: Is this prohibited under the Milk Code? Let’s check what Sec. 6(b) says:

Manufacturers and distributors shall not be permitted to give, directly or indirectly, samples and supplies of products within the scope of this Code or gifts of any sort to any member of the general public, including members of their families, to hospitals and other health institutions, as well as to personnel within the health care system, save as otherwise provided in this Code.

The Milk Code is implemented through the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations issued by the Department of Health.  Under Section 21 of the RIRR, milk manufacturers are prohibited from giving gifts to the public:

Section 21.  Gifts of any sort from milk companies/manufacturers, distributors, and representatives of products within the scope of this Code, with or without company name or logo or product or brand name shall not be given to any member of the general public, to hospitals and other health facilities, including their personnel and members of their families.  

Meanwhile, under Section 52 of the RIRR, all donations must be coursed through the Inter-Agency Committee:

Section 52. Other Donations by Milk Companies not covered by this Code. – Donations of products, equipment, and the like, not otherwise falling within the scope of this Code or these Rules, given by milk companies and their agents, representatives, whether in kind or in cash, may only be coursed through the Inter Agency Committee (IAC), which shall determine whether such donation be accepted or otherwise. 

Last I checked, Wyeth is a milk company or manufacturer of a product within the scope of the Milk Code (they manufacture Bona, Promil, Progress).  But if you check their website, the infant formulas are NOT listed – only the preschool milk.   Wyeth markets Aqiva to be for children 4 years and up (Milk Code covers products for babies up to 1 year old).  However, even if Aqiva is not a product covered by the Milk Code, it is a “GIFT OF ANY SORT” to the “GENERAL PUBLIC”.  Plus, it is considered a donation which should ONLY be coursed through the IAC.  So many violations there!

Let’s check what Aqiva is really about.  In Wyeth’s website, Aqiva is described as follows:

AQIVA is specially formulated to help provide nutritionally compromised children 4 years and older with proper nutrition at the stage when his diet may not always be complete. It contains an adequate caloric distribution of Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat, for optimal energy distribution. It also provides more than 100% of the needed levels of Vitamin A, Calcium, Zinc and Iron, to prevent nutritional inadequacies. Aqiva also contains other nutrients such as DHA/AA, Lutein, Oligofructose and Nucleotides to ensure your child’s proper cognitive development, eye health, nutrient absorption, and immunity.

It is a product which Wyeth markets to compete with the Lactum (Mead Johnson) panatag milk.  In short, what Wyeth is saying – if your child does not eat well, don’t worry, you don’t have to help him develop good eating habits – just give him Aqiva milk.  Read the letter from Wyeth’s nutritionist:

I’d like to highlight this part of the letter:  “If you’ve noticed that your child has a preference for unhealthy types of food, help them get Adequate Quality and Important nutrients with AQIVA to help ensure balance nutrition.”  A survey form is attached to the letter which ASSUMES that ALL children have unhealthy eating habits.  Read survey question number 1 – there is no option for “NONE”.  Since when has “eats slowly” become unhealthy?  Plus who determines the “ideal amount” of food?

If you read this article, you will learn that formula is one of the top three consumer products in the Philippines

In Asia, the Philippines is one of the largest markets for infant formula, and the likes of Nestle USA, Abbot, Wyeth and Mead Johnson all have significant sales in the country. Filipino mothers spend about US$469 million annually on infant formula, while multinational milk companies spent nearly $89 million on advertising – not inclusive of the travel, sponsorship and other perks they often provide to health professionals who promote their products. 

The formula milk industry is a HUGE market.  Aside from the School Caravan, Wyeth also has another promotion with Promil – i-Shine Talent Camp which requires purchasing Promil products to join.   Wyeth is amping its marketing strategies – it is indeed a huge pie (US$469M spending on formula milk in 2007).  Is this legal? Debatable.  Ethical? Definitely not!  And to think Wyeth signed the Integrity Pledge.

And I’d like to call the attention of schools allowing this “School Caravan” to flourish.  In N’s school, the milk was already distributed to afternoon students.  When I saw the milk, I immediately complained to the head teacher.  The milk was not distributed and when I asked why, I was informed that they discussed my complaint with the principal and Wyeth and they will be writing to the parents and tell them that accepting the milk is OPTIONAL.

In my nephew’s school, the milk was distributed to the parents during orientation.  But this school in QC was the worse!  Here’s the experience shared by the mom:

“I got a can of Aqiva milk from X’s school.  It’s required to answer the survey that it comes with (it’s even part of Xs assignment notebook).  I don’t know how I stand regarding this.  He’s 7 na.  Parang I don’t know how to feel coz it’s like forcing me to make my kid drink it kase can talaga and not a small pack.  Although X (and my other kids) do drink powdered milk from Wyeth, they’re supported naman with a balanced diet.  Parang feeling ko “invasive” yung approach.  What I did was to answer the survey then at the bottom, I wrote this:  “Please respect the parents especially if they prefer to encourage their kids to eat properly. ‘force-feeding’ aqiva to my child is disrespectful and is in violation of the Milk Code.”

Read the survey form again – question no. 3 – “Did your child enjoy drinking Aqiva?”  Make this part of a child’s assignment notebook – how do you think the parent will comply with it?

Oh and aside from their Aquiva campaign, they also have another one for Promil:

Shame, shame, SHAME ON YOU, Wyeth!

Did your child also receive an Aqiva sample from school? Please share your experience!

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