Nestlé and Danone are among infant-formula manufacturers with UK operations to sign up to a new industry code of practise in the country.

The British Specialist Nutrition Association (BSNA) has developed The Infant Nutrition Industry Code to open up transparency into baby-formula producers, with Abbott, HiPP and Mead Johnson the other signatories to the project. It will be regulated by a new, independent Code of Practice Authority (INICPA), which will investigate any complaints and have the power to require any company found to be in breach of the Code to take steps to rectify any issues.

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BSNA said in a statement the code of practise showed the infant-nutrition industry’s commitment to “responsible marketing and transparency” as per the World Health Organisation’s ‘International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes 1981’. The new code covers industry practice, product quality, composition, safety, sales, marketing and clinical research. 

BSNA’s initiative follows complaints made last year by the UK-based Changing Markets Foundation against Nestlé. The Foundation claimed there were “inconsistencies” in the way the world’s largest food manufacturer promoted its formula in different global markets and asserted the health claims it used in some jurisdictions broke local regulations.

“The report concludes that Nestlé is not driven by nutritional science, but instead by a sharp and prioritised focus on profit and growth at the expense of infants and their parents,” the Foundation said in February. Nestlé later defended itself against the claims.

When approached by just-food to comment on the new code of practise following the criticism by the Foundation, a Nestlé spokesperson said it was no longer working on the issue.

Meanwhile, Declan O’Brien, the director general of the BSNA, said in a statement: “The INI Code has been introduced to bring a clarity and uniformity of standards across the infant-nutrition businesses.  

“Any complaint made against a company under the INI Code will be regarded as a serious matter both by that company and by the industry as a whole. The INI Code of Practice Authority will require appropriate corrective action to be taken by any company found to be in breach of the INI Code. In addition, the outcome of complaints will also be published on the BSNA website.” 

A spokesperson for Switzerland-based Nestlé, whose infant-formula brands include Gerber, confirmed its Nestlé Nutrition and Nestlé Health Science divisions have signed up to the BSNA’s Code of Practice, as did a spokesperson at France-based dairy giant Danone and the owner of the Aptamil for its Early Life Nutrition business in the UK.

US-based Abbott is headquartered in Illinois, with its main UK operation located in Maidenhead, Berkshire. Its infant-formula brands include Similac and Pure Bliss. Baby-nutrition manufacturer HiPP is based in Switzerland and makes Combotic formula. Mead Johnson is owned by UK food business Reckitt Benckiser and produces the Enfamil brand.

Companies that have signed up to the code will have three months to ensure that all their practices are in line with the new requirements, BSNA said. The complaints procedure will go live on 1 February. 

European dairy giant Arla Foods is absent from the list of signatories. The private-label and branded dairy products supplier recently launched a direct-to-consumer business offering organic infant formula and baby food under the name Baby&Me.  

However, an Arla spokesperson told just-food: “We are aware of the BSNA and the new code of practice it has shared. In launching our new UK baby range in recent weeks, we have continued Arla’s focus on the highest standards of food production and we look forward to the opportunity for wider discussion with the industry and the BSNA.”