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Bad Milk: Breastfeeding, Baby Formula, and Business Interests

10 0 16

New state nutrition programmes in Córdoba province and the city of Buenos Aires are being implemented with companies that produce baby formula. Soledad Barruti investigates what lies behind these deals for Mu.

Photo: Ignacio Yuchurk

On 21st May 1981, a global agreement still considered unique more than 35 years later was signed at the World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters in Geneva. On that day, 118 countries agreed that it was necessary to preserve humanity from the free market, deceitful advertising, and conflicts of interest that had achieved something sinister: convincing a significant chunk of the population that the food and pharmaceutical industries together had overtaken biology and produced a milk for babies that was better than human milk.

Thanks to a string of doctors convinced by these businesses – and who then in turn convinced their patients – in just one generation the number of breastfeeding mothers slumped in countries as diverse as the US and Peru. It’s calculated that a million babies died in Africa where the brands used guerrilla marketing techniques, including false nurses who instructed women who had just given birth that this innovative foodstuff – provided for free – would cause their baby to grow up to be larger, more energetic, and more intelligent.

Months later these very same babies experienced commerciogenic malnutrition: neurogenic problems, blindness, and rickets – even heart failure. Many of them survived, because they were luckier, because they lived in urban areas with secure water sources to prepare the milk, or because their families could afford to keep buying the formula to feed them. But they experienced a string of illnesses, including gastrointestinal problems, allergies, and asthma.

Soon after, evidence emerged that nobody discusses today: babies fed with formula are the least healthy in an increasingly sick system. Public health expenditure falls when breastfeeding increases because it reduces the number of premature deaths and all of the most frequent symptoms that fill the emergency wards: gastroenteritis, bronchospasm, and otitis.

Breastfeeding also has an impact on women’s health, as those who don’t breastfeed have a higher risk of suffering breast and uterus cancer and osteoporosis. Family expenditures are also incomparable, because breastfeeding is free – commercially speaking of course, because the time and dedication of women to do this and their removal from the workforce isn’t taken into consideration nor is duly compensated with licensed pay for a long enough time.

Breast milk is safe and nutritious, empowering to women, democratic and equalising, and it is likely because of this that so much engineering is expended to eliminate its use.

And so, 35 years ago in Geneva, there was this document: The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. A set of standards to which foods that could impede or obstruct breastfeeding must conform to. It is prohibited to advertise infant formulas, follow-on milks, flours, cereals, or dairy products for babies by any means, including feeding bottles and dummies. Free samples or equipment from the clinic also cannot be given out – the exchange with medical professionals should be purely scientific.

Of course the document does not prohibit the baby formula itself. But it establishes that it is the only alternative when breastfeeding is impossible because of illness or if the mother does not want to breastfeed, and is a product similar to a medicine to deal with specific situations that the WHO calculates affect no more than 5% of the population.

The Code recognised three things: the perfection of human milk, the inferiority of substitutes, and........

© Argentina Independent