For the past weeks, I have received several emails about campaigns by Nestle and Wyeth promoting their products.  Let me share my thoughts about them.

These campaigns refer to advertisements for follow-on milk for 12-36 month old children.

I called the Milk Code Secretariat and confirmed that it was approved by the Inter-Agency Committee created under the Milk Code.  Next question?  Was this legally approved?

Section 6 of the Milk Code (or Executive Order No. 51) provides that no advertising for products within the scope of this Code shall be broadcast UNLESS the materials are duly authorized and approved by the Milk Code Commitee.

Are the products covered by the Code?  YES
The Code applies to the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, including infant formula and other milk products, when marketed or otherwise represented to be suitable as a partial or total replacement of breastmilk.

Breastmilk is best for babies 2 years and beyond – which means that even if your child has turned 1 year old, breastmilk is still the most suitable nutrition for him/her.  Hence, any milk being marketed for children from 12-36 months is still considered a breastmilk substitute and is covered by the Milk Code.  This argument is actually supported by the Supreme Court in PHAP v. Duque (G.r. No. 173034, 9 October 2007):

In other words, breastmilk substitutes may also be intended for young children more than 12 months of age.  Therefore, by regulating breastmilk substitutes, the Milk Code also intends to protect and promote the nourishment of children more than 12 months old. 

Now you ask, if that is the case, then WHY are commercials of milk for 12-36 months being shown on TV? Because the Milk Code Committee approved it!

Well, the law appears to have given a leeway to milk companies.  Advertisements require PRIOR approval.  So, if your IAC is not actually well-versed about issues concerning advertising of follow-on products, then they will limit themselves to the letter of the law – which is what happened in this case.

I called the Milk Code Secretariat and asked why these particular ad was approved when the IAC never used to approve ads for milk below 3 years old.  I was informed that it was because this ad was limited to a product shot.  Now, with the approval of Nestle Nan, Wyeth’s Promil has come up with its own ad.

It appears that the Milk Code Committee failed to consider how advertising for follow-on milk – even if it is merely a product shot – CAN affect infant feeding choices.  I already posted about that here – but let me quote the relevant portion from UNICEF UK again:

“When the advertising ban was introduced, it didn’t cover follow-on formula,” said Andrew Radford, Director of UNICEF UK’s Baby Friendly Initiative. “The manufacturers have since changed the way they package and promote their follow-on formulas so that they’re almost identical to the regular infant formula. This means that a supposedly legal TV or magazine advert for a follow-on formula will also promote a company’s infant formula.

xxx 

The survey also reveals that many mothers are unclear about the distinction between the different types of formula milk. Of the mothers who had used follow-on milk, nearly one in five said they started before their baby was three months old, despite the product’s higher mineral content, which is unsuitable before six months.” 

It is the aim of the Milk Code “to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants by the protection and promotion of breastfeeding and by ensuring the proper use of breastmilk substitutes and breastmilk supplements when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution.”

The ad is simply a product shot – there is no explanation of the risks of formula milk feeding.  As this article emphasizes, it is not enough that the benefits of breastfeeding be promoted for the mothers to have an informed choice.  The risks and hazards of formula feeding must also be clearly presented and explained:

When we fail to describe the hazards of artificial feeding, we deprive mothers of crucial decision-making information. The mother having difficulty with breastfeeding may not seek help just to achieve a “special bonus;” but she may clamor for help if she knows how much she and her baby stand to lose. She is less likely to use artificial milk just “to get him used to a bottle” if she knows that the contents of that bottle cause harm.

Hence, by simply showing a product shot, there is still no balance as with this product shot, it is not simply that specific product that is being promoted but it is actually the entire milk line under the same brand.

What can we do?  I have compiled the list of the current members of the Milk Code Committee.  The Milk Code Committee is headed by Dr. Eric Tayag of the DOH who is active on Twitter, State Counsel Jeannette Dacpano of the Department of Justice, Atty. Robert Nereo B. Samson, Attorney V, Office of the Director General, IPOPhil for the Department of Trade and Industry, and Dr. Wilhelmina Berroya of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

To be honest, aside from Dr. Tayag, I do not know how well-versed they are with the issues surround breastfeeding in the Philippines.  Aside from pre-monitoring, the Milk Code Committee also conducts post-monitoring.  As the Secretariat said, the current series of ads were approved for the first time and only for 3 months.

If you are bothered by these ads being shown on TV, you can take action and prevent future approvals of similar advertisements.  Contact these individuals – click on the links I have provided in the names above and you will be shown their Facebook/email addresses.  For Dr. Berroya, you can address your letter to Ms. Maria Alicia Bonoan, DSWD Regional Director, Attention Dr. Wilhelmina Berroya – telefax 8071588.

Here’s a sample letter which you are welcome to edit and use:

Dear (Put the name of the Milk Code Committee Member), 

I am disappointed by the Milk Code Committee’s approval of the TV advertisement for Nestle Nan 12-36 months milk (or Wyeth’s Promil 12-36 months milk).  Studies have shown that many mothers are unclear about the distinction between the different types of formula milk.  In fact, mothers who use follow-on milk have admitted to using the milk even when their babies have not yet reached that minimum recommended age. 

Despite claims that these advertisements are merely product shots, these advertisements undermine breastfeeding because the supposedly legal TV advertisement for a follow-on formula is also actually promoting the company’s infant formula.   

I hope that the Milk Code Committee reconsiders future approvals of similar advertisements. 

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,
xxxx

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