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Protecting Breastfeeding

Janet Jendron and Carole Wrede
LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 28 No. 1, January-February 1992, pp. 5-6

Breastfeeding rates are declining worldwide. In NEW BEGINNINGS (March-April 1991) Kate Sharp described the overwhelming effects of this decline. She points out that "A bottle-fed infant can be as much as twenty-five times more likely to die in childhood than an exclusively breastfed infant...." Lack of breastfeeding is a major cause of diarrheal disease and a major contributor to acute respiratory infections, which together are responsible for six million children's deaths annually.

The WHO Code, the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, was approved by the World Health Assembly in May 1981. The United States is the only country which did not ratify the WHO Code. [Ed. note: On May 9, 1994, the US reversed its opposition to the WHO Code, and joined with other countries in support of the Code.] The code makes specific recommendations for the appropriate commercialization of formula. It calls for a ban on the advertising of formula, baby bottles, rubber teats, and the prohibition of formula samples for new mothers leaving the hospital. The code is seen as the minimum requirement to protect health practices in infant and young child feeding. It was left to individual countries to write laws which would make the code effective; however, some have done very little to implement the code.

A Historical Perspective

Over the years, the LLLI Board of Directors has become increasingly aware of the global issues involved in protecting breastfeeding worldwide. In 1981 and again in 1987, the Board voted to support the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. (See Mary Ann Kerwin's article on page 67 of the July-August 1981 LLL NEWS and Carole Wrede's article on pp. 136-37 of the September-October 1988 NEW BEGINNINGS.) A "Breastmilk Substitutes Statement" appeared in LEAVEN in May-June 1982, reflecting LLLI policy and our deep concern about "the needless suffering, malnutrition, disease, and deaths of babies that follow the misuse of commercial breastmilk substitutes." In February 1988, the Board also directed LLLI to cooperate and network with other key breastfeeding organizations around the world and to lend strong US support to struggling countries. In October 1988, the Board voted to support the efforts of the American Academy of Pediatrics for their policy opposing direct advertising of infant formula to the public, recognizing it as a positive step toward increasing the incidence and duration of breastfeeding in the United States. This move will undoubtedly lend support to breastfeeding worldwide.

On July 21, 1991 an historic meeting was held in the USA when over thirty representatives from major US health organizations and a government observer from the US Department of Agriculture met at LLLI's invitation to discuss the marketing of artificial infant feeding in the US. At this meeting, (reported on p. 66 of September-October 1991 LEAVEN) a consortium drafted the "Declaration for the Protection, Promotion, and Support of Breastfeeding."

Background on the Nestle-AHP Boycott

In October 1988, Action for Corporate Accountability (the US arm of the International Baby Food Action Network-IBFAN, a coalition of over 150 citizen groups in nearly 70 countries) launched a new boycott of Nestle and American Home Products in the United States. Similar boycotts are underway in other countries. Nestle is singled out because it is the largest manufacturer and marketer of breast milk substitutes in developing countries, and because their practices are deemed as the most harmful. The Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT) Canada Newsletter says in its Fall 1991 issue:

"Nestle violates the WHO Code more often than any of its competitors, although scant regard is shown by most other companies. Nestle is not willing to end the marketing practice of providing free samples of formula to hospitals and maternities unless forced to do so by law. Free sampling is the single most effective marketing tactic of infant formula companies since it interferes with lactation, establishes brand loyalty (93 %), and attaches medical endorsement to the product."

The boycott also includes American Home Products because they have been identified as one of the major violators of the WHO Code. As LLL Founder Vi Lennon points out, "The whole thrust of the boycott is to stop a multi-national corporation from engaging in a practice which discourages breastfeeding."

Some of you probably remember the previous Nestle boycott which took place from 1977 to 1984. During that time LLLI Headquarters staff directed inquiries about the boycott to organizations such as INFACT, who were then sponsors of the boycott. In 1984, the boycott was lifted when Nestle agreed to discontinue its harmful practices. However, they did not adhere to their promises, so a new boycott is now in effect.

Information to Members

In February 1991, the LLLI Board of Directors voted unanimously that "LLLI provide information to our members through various channels about the current Nestle/American Home Products boycott." This Board decision was reported in LEAVEN, March-April 1991, page 18. This decision was deemed consistent with the first goal in our Strategic Plan: "To increase the incidence and duration of breastfeeding worldwide; Strategies include: To respond to political, social, and cultural factors which affect breastfeeding; and the protection of breastfeeding." It was also consistent with our promise to keep Leaders and members informed of issues affecting breastfeeding.

Deciding to avoid buying products manufactured by companies which do not respect the code is one way members, as consumers, may choose to help preserve the right of mothers in all countries to breastfeed their babies. It is also one response to the question asked by Leaders like Joan Miller, who wrote: "Mothers in developing countries will never call me for help with nipple confusion or slow weight gain. So how can I help them? What does it mean to each of us to be committed to helping women an ocean away from us?"

LLL is a positive organization. As Carmen Vandenabeele, Director of LLL's ATW Division, put it, "LLLI is not against bottles or Nestle, but rather for breastfeeding and respect for the WHO Code." Pat Ezell from Colorado wrote: "Without changing its basic purpose and philosophy, LLLI has expanded its promotion of breastfeeding in many ways.... Informing about the boycott is supporting our most basic cause, not adding another one."

LLLI is not endorsing the boycott or advocating action, but informing its Leaders and members. Like issues such as nutrition, sexuality, parenting, discipline, and childbirth, this information should be put in perspective as something which, individually or globally, is affected by, or affects breastfeeding. We have every confidence that Leaders will be sensitive and use good judgment when the issue arises.

Current boycott information [see note below] may be obtained in North America by writing Action for Corporate Accountability, Dr. Idrian Resnick, 29 Church Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06510 (phone: 203-787-0061, FAX 203-787-3908). In Europe write the Geneva Infant Feeding Association, PO Box 157, CH-1211 Geneva 19, Switzerland. In Africa contact the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Africa, PO Box 34308, Nairobi, Kenya. Interested Leaders may also contact Board members Barbara Heiser, Chairman of the Action Committee, or Beth Styer, LLLI's UNICEF Liaison, c/o LLLI Headquarters.

[Ed. note: some of the addresses above may no longer be correct.]

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