Indian authorities are examining claims baby food manufacturers Nestle, Heinz and Abbott Laboratories have broken regulations governing the promotion of infant formula and cereals.
Two charities – the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India and the International Baby Food Action Network – have claimed the multinationals are promoting infant nutrition products on Indian websites, breaching India’s Infant Milk Substitutes Act.
A spokesperson for India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told just-food today (2 August) the government would take “a very serious look” at the case. “We are committed to promoting and supporting breastfeeding,” the spokesperson added.
While the government is examining the legality of the marketing used to promote baby foods, a spokesperson for the charities told just-food the issue is more far-reaching.
“They [baby food makers] are misleading the people through their marketing messages… Mother’s milk is the complete food. But in a country where clean water is not always available you have all sorts of issues surrounding contamination. In poor rural areas, where education is bad, people are susceptible [to these messages],” the spokesperson argued.
The substitution of breast milk – coupled with high poverty levels in the country – contribute to the problem of childhood malnutrition in India, the spokesperson continued.
The World Bank estimates India has the second-highest childhood malnutrition rate in the world, with around 47% of children considered underweight.
Heinz has refuted the suggestion that it is breaking Indian regulations. A spokesperson for the US food giant told just-food the claims were “inaccurate and misleading” as Heinz “does not manufacture or market infant formula or infant cereals in India”.
Nestle and Abbott were not available for comment at time of press.