Manufacturers of powdered breast milk substitutes are violating international codes when selling their product to West Africans, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.
The research, which was conducted in Togo and Burkino Faso surveyed health facilities, sales outlets, distribution points, health providers, and mothers, and found that many had received donations of breast milk substitutes or promotional gifts from manufacturers. Forty commercial breast milk substitutes were found to violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes, which affirms the importance of breastfeeding for child health and development.
The code was adopted in 1982 by the World Health Assembly to ensure the proper use of formula milk. It bans, among other things, the advertising of such products to the public and the giving of free samples to mothers.
Twenty of the products that were found to violate the labelling standards of the code were made by Danone, 11 by Nestlé, and eight by other national and international manufacturers.
In response, Nestlé said its takes its responsibility under the code very seriously and would investigate the claims.
“We are going to look at each one of these allegations. For the time being these are no more than allegations,” Francois Perroud, a spokesman for Nestlé, told Reuters.
If necessary the company will take steps to correct errors, if they have been committed, or to sanction people who might not have respected the code, he added.
Perroud also questioned why the researchers had not informed Nestlé of the allegations and added that it was not clear in the report whether the governments of the countries were involved in the monitoring.
“The government has an obligation under the code to do the monitoring,” he said.
Danone said it was surprised by the assertions and said it fully complied with labelling requirements.
“The Groupe Danone reaffirms that it does not, notably in the mentioned countries, allow itself any advertising or promotional activity to the general public for breast-milk substitutes,” the company was quoted by Reuters as saying.