January 2nd, 2011
I begin the new year with a resolution fully to boycott Nestle. I’ve eaten the last Quality Street and had my last bowl of Cheerios. The cats, fortunately, never really liked Go-Cat and I’ve never been one for drinking bottled water. However, giving up condensed milk, KitKats and After Eights was not done without a wrench. It’s hardly Rowntrees’ fault that they were bought out by Nestle a few years ago, but even the Fair Trade KitKat was not enough (it represents a tiny fraction of the cocoa bought by Nestle each year).
I am NOT doing it because I disagree with the sale of formula milk. A safe substitute for breast milk is a vital product.
Why am I doing it? It’s because although Nestle are not the only company to engage in unethical marketing of breast milk substitutes, they are the biggest and have committed the most egregious offences.
What I would like to see is formula milk being sold at a reasonable price (instead of the massive mark ups we currently see) with no outlandish claims for its benefits made either in the advertising or the packaging. I would like to see formula milk sold with clear instructions on how to make it, printed in visible lettering in the languages most commonly spoken and read in the country in which it is sold. I would like to see an end to free samples and “prescription pads” being handed out to healthcare professionals in developing countries where clean water, fuel and the money to buy formula is in short supply. I would like to see an end to coffee creamer being sold as a cheap alternative to proper formula milk.
I would like mothers in countries without access to safe water to be protected from aggressive marketing of formula milk. In Bangladesh, there are specialist hospitals dedicated to children with diarrhoea, caused almost exclusively by being fed formula milk made with unsafe water.
I would like Nestle to stop dumping “donations” of formula on disaster areas. Well meaning aid workers distribute this stuff, which is contrary to UNICEF’s guidelines on the matter. Trying to ensure infants get breast milk either from their mother, a lactating relative, encouraging relactation or a volunteer wet nurse is the first thing that should be tried. To start giving a baby formula milk in a country like Haiti can well be a death sentence, to say nothing of the recent floods in Pakistan which have polluted water supplies and spread disease.
It’s in developing countries that the headline offences take place but this is not to say that Nestle engages in unethical practices on my doorstep, although the methods are a little more subtle. For all that it may be claimed that the boycott has no teeth, Nestle does not sell formula milk in the UK and has no plans to re-launch it. What it does sell here, in a network of independent shops in areas with a mix of nationalities (like my own) are powdered milk products aimed at older children which are much cheaper than formula, are popular in some countries as a result, and are stocked with the formula milk. Whilst HCPs in the UK will no doubt “mop up” children fed this stuff, Nestle can and should make it clear on both the retail and wholesale packaging that it should not be displayed with formula milk products.
I would like to see “breastfeeding advice” removed from formula milk companies’ websites. Large companies are obliged to act in the interests of their shareholders. If a formula milk company truly offered correct and helpful information about breastfeeding, the shareholders would rightly be up in arms! They would be telling consumers how to avoid buying their product!
I would like formula packaging to simply include the brand name, type of formula (whey/casein based, dairy free, lactose free etc.) and instructions. No more cuddly bears or fluffy ducks, pseudo-scientific shields and logos slyly implying that this stuff will turn your baby into Einstein.
I would dearly love to never again see the sort of adverts Nestle run in countries which do not ban the advertising of infant formula: in the Philippines, there is a commercial featuring a little girl who grows up to be a piano playing prodigy, all thanks, apparently, to her formula milk.
And that is why. Even George Clooney cannot persuade me to purchase a Nespresso machine now.
Oh, and one more reason:
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