IBFAN Asia and IBFAN-ICDC Launch Report on the Monitoring of the Code in 11 Countries of Asia

IBFAN Asia and IBFAN-ICDC Launch Report on the Monitoring of the Code in11 Countries of Asia

Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand

Exposing the Market Offenders
On Unethical Marketing Practices of Baby Food Companies that Harm Babies’ Health

37 years after the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, baby food companies continue to pay lip service and claim to be staunch breastfeeding supporters. But their actions prove otherwise as violations of the Code still happen frequently to undermine breastfeeding.

To restrict the promotional activities of the baby food companies, Governments are required to adopt the Code and relevant WHA resolutions – collectively known as the International Code – into national legal measures and ensure their effective implementation. This should also include robust and sustainable monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. Monitoring is crucial whether or not the country has adopted the International Code into national law or measures.

The Asia Pacific market is one of the fastest growing regional markets for baby foods due to population and economic growth. A major factor undermining efforts to improve breastfeeding rates is the ever-aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes and feeding bottles and teats.

IBFAN Asia supported monitors in the 11 countries and coordinated with IBFAN-ICDC on a regional Code monitoring exercise, putting their skills to use. Coached by IBFAN Asia and IBFAN-ICDC, monitors embarked on a yearlong monitoring project since its conception in October 2017, with a focus on labelling and promotional activities on the online portals. IBFAN Asia and IBFAN-ICDC jointly compiled the country reports into a regional report, which highlights trends and themes companies are using to violate and circumvent the International Code. Especially blatant are the use of claims on labels to mislead the public about their products, and the blurring of selling vs. promoting on the internet. These health and nutritional claims have become prime marketing tools. Presented as complex scientific formulations, they appear in the form of trademark logos, mascots or benefit icons to create a premium market. Often companies also compare these additives with properties in breastmilk. Examples of such in this report include those found in China (Danone and Wyeth), India (Nestle), Indonesia (Wyeth), Mongolia (Danone), Nepal (Danone), Republic of Korea (Pasteur), Sri Lanka (Nestle), and Thailand (Danone and Wyeth). In the Philippines, the bottle and teat companies are blatantly disregarding the Code and national law. As with online marketing portals which should only act as internet storefronts to sell, findings show that promotional activities are rampant.

In the report, there is a brief introduction of each country’s Code implementation situation, followed by summarised findings of violations and brief analysis. The report ends with suggestions for the way forward to strengthen various aspects of implementation in order to curb inappropriate marketing. Even though 8 out of the 11 countries have adopted all or many of the provisions of the International Code into their national legislation, violations continue as monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are not effectively in place, or the law is outdated as marketing tactics and scientific findings have evolved. In all of the cases, companies are pushing the limits – breaking and stretching the rules to undermine breastfeeding and optimal infant and young child feeding, to the detriment of the health and development of infants and children and mothers. This serves as a reminder that Code implementation requires ongoing vigilance, and protecting the health of children from aggressive, misleading and inappropriate marketing should be a public health priority and human right obligations of governments without delay.

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Notes for editors:

  1. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/code_english.pdf
  2. Guidance on ending the inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children – http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA69/A69_7Add1-en.pdf?ua=1
  3. Marketing of breast-milk substitutes: national implementation of the international code: status report 2016 – http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/206008/9789241565325_eng.pdf;jsessionid=31212802A8E229B900D7BF30C955BD8D?sequence=1
  4. Marketing of breast-milk substitutes: national implementation of the international code, status report 2018 – http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272649/9789241565592-eng.pdf?ua=1
  5. Code Monitoring Kit. IBFAN-ICDC. See: https://www.ibfan-icdc.org/publications-for-sale/
  6. Code Essentials 2: Guidelines for Policy Makers on Implementing the International Code (Second Edition). IBFAN-ICDC. See: https://www.ibfan-icdc.org/publications-for-sale/
  7. Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules, 2017. IBFAN-ICDC. See: https://www.ibfan-icdc.org/publications-for-sale/
  8. State of the Code by Country 2018. IBFAN-ICDC. See: https://www.ibfan-icdc.org/publications-for-sale/
  9. International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and relevant WHA Resolutions: Annotated Compilation. IBFAN-ICDC. IBFAN-ICDC. https://www.ibfan-icdc.org/product/international-code-and-relevant-wha-resolutions/