Baby food labelling targeted

SNP MEP Mr Alyn Smith has joined forces with the Baby Milk Action group in urging the European Commission to bring current European legislation into line with recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that stipulates that babies should not be given any food other than breastmilk until they are at least six months old.

The Food Standards Agency set out that breast milk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs for healthy development in the first six months of life and only after this time period should a parent start introducing solid foods. Despite this warning it is understood that most baby foods, i.e. jars and packets are still labelled from four months, and while the WHO recommendations were adopted by the UK in 2003 many manufacturers still have not updated their labels, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, hence Smith's call for EU-wide action.

The Committee Convention on the Rights of the Child called on the UK to do more to protect breastfeeding and to implement the Code fully, but it has done little to prevent its health care system become flooded with commercial promotion Companies spend at least 12 million on booklets, leaflets, and other promotions, much in the guise of education materials - approx 20 per baby born - in a highly competitive market worth 370 million.

While appreciating that progress that has been made in recent years in the promotion and support of breast feeding, Mr Smith is aware that aggressive promotion of foods for children under 6 months remains common.

Speaking from Edinburgh Mr Smith said:

"There is mounting evidence that breastfeeding is best for babies. Breast milk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs for healthy development in the first six months of life and research states that the longer a mother breastfeeds, the greater the benefits.

"Nonetheless, there is evidence that some companies have been challenging their need to comply with these rules, defying them, and allegedly putting their own profit before the safety of babies. The extra sales of complementary foods resulting from labelling products for use from 4 months of age rather than 6 months are estimated to be worth US$1 billion annually.

"Despite the fact that the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes carries a minimum requirement which is supposed to be implemented in its entirety the UK and other European countries has failed to implement it in full. This decision has shocked and disappointed all those who work for the protection of infant health and I want this situation to be rectified so that all Member States comply with WHO recommendations."

Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action said:

"Most countries claim to have adopted the code but all EU Member States have to implement the EU directives. They must respect a childs right to optimum health and do every thing possible to protect parents from commercial exploitation. Currently women are bombarded with conflicting messages, free samples of baby foods and drinks, labels, promotional health claims and adverts all implying that babies must be fed other foods very early and that breastfeeding can not be enough to sustain a baby for 6 months. There is no evidence that early complementary feeding has any advantage for babies, and plenty of evidence that it can do a lot of harm.

"We have for decades exerted a powerful pressure on Governments, to ban the promotion of all foods for infants under six months and improve their general wellbeing. We are grateful to be listened to and commend Alyn for all his hard efforts in making the case heard for the bad labelling of baby foods."