One of the consequences of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union has been a call for EU regulations on the promotion of formula to be relaxed. Those who oppose this law feel that it makes women who are giving formula feel judged and that they have to justify how they are feeding their babies.
However, the EU laws have never been intended to pass judgement on mothers. They do so much more than ban advertising and are in place to ensure that both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers get accurate information.
The legal obligation to regulate the market
The UK was one of the strongest endorsers of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in 1981 and has supported it and the subsequent WHO Resolutions ever since.
Further regulations followed which are intended to protect all babies. They say there should be no promotion to induce sales, discount vouchers, premiums special sales, loss leaders or tie-in sales on formula. Shops don’t give rewards for formula via points schemes as it has been interpreted as a promotion, and this has caused some controversy. However, this is meant to prevent companies from using rewards to aid sales and not to cause mothers distress.
What current legislation does
- It states that formula must not contain substances to endanger the health of infants and young children, including pesticides.
- It insists that ingredients in formula must be examined and studied in relation to expected benefits and safety, and be subject to expert guidance.
- It ensures any new formula must be of a required standard, correctly labelled and clearly explain how to safely prepare and store the product.
- It says that marketing and advertising has to be truthful and must not be “aggressive or inappropriate.”1 There have been several instances of formula advertising being challenged by Baby Milk Action2 and companies having to retract their claims.
- The United Nations says that “access to good quality breast milk substitutes should be regulated and affordable.”3
- There is often an assumption that formula manufacturers will always offer the best product possible. However, in countries where they are unregulated there are instances of corners being cut by looking for the cheapest source of ingredients, which may not be of the highest quality.
Selling formula and breastmilk substitutes is a massive business and companies want to attract new consumers in any way they can. Regulations are needed to ensure new mothers are not misled by posts on social media which appear to be from a new mother, but are actually placed by manufacturers who then target those who engage.
Supporting breastfeeding is not meant to make formula feeders feel guilty
It’s important that mothers get accurate information so they can make informed choices. Only by ensuring that legislation prevents the undermining of breastfeeding and inaccurate marketing of breastmilk substitutes can we ensure that all women make the right choices for them.
In the past, the UK Government has claimed that EU laws prevent it from implementing different laws. Brexit supporters said that after the referendum the UK would be free to make our own laws. However, it’s important that any new laws that may be approved once the UK leaves the EU endorse the current regulations and ensure that children are protected from harmful products. Repealing current laws could leave parents at the mercy of misleading marketing that undermines children’s health.
See a longer version of this article here.