Nestlé Replies...

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THE BABYMILK ISSUE[image, unknown] And the reply...

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Nestlé replies...
We asked Nestlé's headquarters in Switzerland if they would answer New Internationalist questions about their promotion of infant formula in the Third World. They declined a spoken interview but were prepared to reply in writing to pre-set questions. Reproduced below, in full, is their response:

Nestlé began by saying:

Nestlé fully supports the aims and principles of the World Health Organization Code and since the May vote has taken positive steps to assist in the implementation of the Code. We have not used mass media advertising for infant formula in the developing countries for more than three years nor do we give samples direct to mothers. We are currently initiating policy changes relating to labels and educational materials. These changes must of necessity be discussed with the authorities in the individual countries in which we operate and will be implemented as soon as possible. The WHO Code is a recommendation to governments to adopt measures suited to their national needs. We are consulting with those authorities on their understanding of Code recommendations that are open to differing interpretations or where the implementation of the recommendation would conflict with existing national laws, regulations or codes.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: Do you agree that there is a connection between the promotion of artificial babymilk and increased infant malnutrition in the Third World?

Nestlé: There is no scientific evidence that demonstrates a cause and effect relationship between marketing practices for infant formula and infant malnutrition in the Third World.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: Why promote a product in areas where there is a high chance the artificial babymilks will be mixed with polluted water and where inadequate kitchen facilities mean the bottle and teat will not be adequately sterilised?

Nestlé: For those babies who need nutritionally appropriate breastmilk supplements or substitutes these are necessary, often lifesaving products. Where their use is vital but there is a risk of misuse then education is all the more necessary.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: You say your marketing policy is in total harmony with the promotion of breastfeeding. So why does Nestlé still promote its infant formula, instead ofjust making it available through government health ministries?

Nestlé: Given the role and responsibilities of health services and present exceedingly limited infrastructure this would not be a practical suggestion even for a developed country.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: Is Nestlé worried about being prevented from using its company demonstrators to explain to health professionals how to prepare infant formula correctly?

Nestlé: There is nothing in the WHO Code which recommends against company personnel providing information on ‘scientific and factual matters’. The demonstration of the preparation of infant formula to health professionals is part of the responsibility of the manufacturer and is of course a factual matter.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: What is Nestlé’s reaction to the passing of the Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes by the World Health Assembly in May 1981?

Nestlé: Nestlé supports the aims and principles of the WHO Code and agrees that the marketing of infant formula should be designed not to discourage breastfeeding.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: Although this Code is only a recommendation to national governments, doesn’t the weight of international opinion demonstrated by the 118 government representatives who voted for it mean that a responsible company like Nestlé should take those recommendations as law, and not continue infant formula promotion?

Nestlé: The Code is not a law. It is a recommendation to governments to adopt measures according to their own needs to improve infant nutrition. In accordance with Article 11.3 of the Code, our marketing practices are fully in line with the principles and aim of the Code.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: The former Director of Nestlé SA, Ernest Saunders, said that the amount of infant formula sold by Nestlé in the Third World generated only two per cent of total turnover. Given the public conflict, and some odium which Nestlé has attracted because of these infant formula sales, wouldn’t it be more diplomatic to make more concessions to the WHO! UNICEF initiative?

Nestlé: It is correct to say that the sales of infant formula in the Third World represent approximately 2.5 per cent of the Nestlé group turnover. Our responsibilities are not affected by the size of this business.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: After the 1979 voluntary agreement between WHO! UNICEF and the babyfood companies to restrict marketing behaviour in the Third World, over a thousand violations were documented — including many by Nestlé subsidiaries. Could you comment?

Nestlé: A full investigation and documented response is made to all allegations made against Nestlé . The overwhelming majority of these allegations are either false or so vague as to be impossible to check. We would point out that under article 11.4 of the WHO Code those concerned have the responsibility to draw attention of manufacturers and government authorities to any allegations of activities which are incompatible with the principles and aim of the Code.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: In the case where Nestlé sued a Swiss group for libel after they had printed a pamphlet entitled ‘Nestlé kills Babies’ the judge ruled in your favour. Yet he also said that this verdict was no acquittal (of Nestlé’s tactics in the Third World). What is your response to this?

Nestlé: In 1976 Nestlé took legal action against the authors of a booklet and the defendants at the Bern trial were found guilty of libel.

NEW INTERNATIONALIST: Many church groups and individuals concerned with the welfare of Third World infants are actively boycotting Nestlé products until your babyfood promotion policies change. Why are they wrong?

Nestlé: We know of no group or individual who has boycotted after an objective review of both sides of the issue. Dialogue and cooperation in improving infant feeding practices are essential and must involve health professionals, government officials, representatives of industry and community leaders as appropriate.

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New Internationalist issue 110 magazine cover This article is from the April 1982 issue of New Internationalist.
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