Formula marketing law clears first Commons hurdle

A new law to tighten up advertising of formula milk has cleared its first Commons hurdle today. MPs gave their unanimous backing to SNP MP Alison Thewliss to push ahead with her Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertising and Promotion) Bill, which she says will “better support all parents in the infant feeding choices they make for their children”.

The Scottish MP, who chairs Westminster’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities, has already secured cross-party support from MPs in the Conservatives and Labour as well as other parties in the UK Parliament. She will now take her Bill forward for second reading in Parliament in February.

Speaking from Westminster after MPs unanimously backed her bid to change the law, Alison Thewliss MP commented:

“Securing Parliamentary approval to introduce my Bill is a big step forward. I hope it will be the first step to give better support to all parents in the infant feeding choices they make for their children.

“Whether parents decide to breastfeed or bottle feed is entirely a matter for them, and I very much respect the choices families make. This is not a debate about breastfeeding versus formula milk.

“I believe it is vitally important that parents get accurate and impartial information on the contents of formula milk and the best way to prepare it safely. At present there is a worrying lack of independent scrutiny of infant and young child formula, as well as growing frustration about the industry marketing tricks and misleading claims being pushed on parents and health professionals alike.

“Misinformation on health policy never ends well and this Bill aims to seriously tighten up the behaviour of the formula industry.

“I look forward to using the coming months to consult on the contents of the Bill. I will continue working with MPs across the House to convince the Government that this should be put on the statute books to safeguard the health and wellbeing of babies and young children.”

1 thought on “Formula marketing law clears first Commons hurdle

  1. I’m a specialist midwife in Bradford. I work with a third sector community partnership Better Start Bradford which works with expectant parents and children up to 4yrs in the three most deprived wards in our city. I also work in the main NHS hospital – often on the postnatal wards where baby feeding is an important topic. I also teach parent education and assist parents to make informed choices on how to feed their baby.

    I am concerned about the marketing of breast milk substitutes [artificial baby milk for babies up to 6 months] especially because of the financial burden on my families and the health risks to the deprived population I work with. Baby Friendly Initiative and First Steps Nutrition charity have shown that additives are being put into artificial baby milks that are not necessary but put up the price through companies making claims for being a premium product. I would like this to end so that brands cannot differentiate their price points like this and families do not feel undue pressure to buy essentially basic formula with unnecessary additives at a higher cost in an misinformed attempt to ‘do best’ for their baby. Of course this advertising process is done via ‘follow on’ milks and brand only advertising due to current restrictions. Parents I work with universally apply marketing of ‘follow on’ milk to breastmilk substitutes and don’t differentiate.

    I also have found the sale of breast milk substitutes in very small bottles [80mls] to be particularly problematic. I believe these are essentially an advertising gimmick aimed at the early days of a baby’s life. Hospitals like mine recently brought in ‘milk kitchen’ facilities so families could learn to safely prepare artificial baby milk safely soon after their baby is born – this is due to potentially life threatening gastroenteritis for sub optimal feed preparation. However the packs of pre-made breastmilk substitute in tiny bottles makes artificial milk feeding seem deceptively easy. Parents can only afford expensive premade bottles for a few days – going home not having made bottles up correctly themselves and unaware how time consuming it can be. Can we have labelling that talks about hygiene risks, and advertising that has to mention that incorrect prep can be life threatening?

    Many mothers also incorrectly think giving a few of these bottles while they rest up from birth is harmless and they can breastfeed afterwards. Giving artificial milk to very small babies limits and damages the physical start of breastfeeding in several ways that can make it much harder later. These tiny bottles used to be made for hospitals when we gave out breastmilk substitute postnatally. As soon as hospitals like mine changed to asking parents to bring in their own bottles and milk powder, so they can learn to make up feeds realistically and safely, the manufacturers started selling and promoting these packs to the general public. I believe these products aimed at newborns should state the impact on breastfeeding success – mixed feeding is much more successful if breastfeeding is well established first.

    I also think advertising standards should rest on ‘breast is normal’ not ‘breast is best’ – for example breastmilk substitutes for babies under 6 months is associated with an increased likelihood of unexpected death [SIDS], instead of stating breastfeeding protects against SIDS we need to take breastfeeding as the biological norm and inform parents that using breast milk substitutes may increase SIDS which is medically correct information. We spend a lot of public health money on teaching safe sleeping but then have parents using a product that they buy in good faith not knowing of this association. If it was a toy or cot that had this risk I would expect a huge outcry in the media and a withdrawal of the product – this has not happened with artificial baby milk and we should expect companies to state this risk like we do with other risky products.

    Sincerely Rachel Wild RM NMC registration: 10i0025e

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