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Why The Milk Monster Bill Is A Big Deal

September 12, 2012

If you are also a reader of Chronicles of A Nursing Mom like me, you would also now be aware that the breastfeeding groups and advocates are campaigning against a pending bill in Congress. The truth behind the bill is hidden under a very pretty name, “An Act Promoting A Comprehensive Program on Breasfeeding Practices and Regulating the Trade, Marketing and Promotions of Certain foods for Infants and Children.” If you haven’t read the bill, you would think this was a great bill. They used the word “promoting” attached to “breastfeeding practices”, and “regulating” for “trade, marketing and promotions” to lead you to believe that this bill was all about improving and strengthening the laws that protect breastfeeding. In fact, all the bill aims for is to promote the interests of formula milk companies and does nothing for breastfeeding.

Jenny Ong drafted a table outlining the provisions in this proposed bill versus the current Milk Code.

The most alarming provisions in this anti-breastfeeding bill are:

  1. lowering the age limit for advertising formula from 36 months to 6 months,
  2. allowing formula milk donations in times of emergencies,
  3. allowing formula companies to have nutritional claims in their advertising; and
  4. allowing formula companies to conduct breastfeeding seminars.
The argument being used for allowing advertising for formula milk for 6 months onwards is giving mothers an “informed choice.” This goes hand-in-hand with the provision for allowing nutritional claims in advertising. You’ve heard the taglines – “panatag”, “batang may laban”, “gifted child”. How about what they don’t tell us? For example, formula milk companies keep spouting claims for smarter children due to the DHA and ARA content in the formula, but what they don’t say is that artifical DHA and ARA are not readily absorbed by the human body. You could eat tons of this artificial DHA and ARA and never gain an IQ point. DHA and ARA are naturally present in breastmilk and absorbed totally by your baby. They never say in their shiny cans that formula milk is just a copy of breastmilk and fails to replicate it by a mile. They don’t say that in the hierarchy of infant feeding choices set by the World Health Organization, formula milk is the last resort.
A lot of people don’t understand why breastfeeding advocates are against the donation of milk formula in times of emergencies. Some people have gone as far to say that we are being close-minded in our views about breastfeeding and formula milk. But here are the facts:
  • Most of the women encountered in evacuation areas during Ondoy, Sendong and the recent Habagat were already breastfeeding mothers. The need for formula milk was not that urgent and the calls for formula milk donations were not necessary.
  • From the experience of my colleagues in relief operations, even breastfeeding mothers would line up for free formula milk handouts because they thought this was the better solution for their babies due to the claims they hear on the radio and TV. Some of them stop breastfeeding and are not able to sustain formula feeding for their children and resort to other things, like coffee creamer, evaporated milk, condensed milk and growing-up milk.
  • To be able to feed their babies the formula in the evacuation centers, mothers took water from anywhere they could get it – gutters, portalets, drainpipes, you name it. Result? Diarrhea and illness.
  • The formula milk companies take emergencies as an opportunity to promote their products.
  • Donated formula is hard to regulate and monitor in times of emergencies, and mothers end up giving the wrong kind of milk to their infants.
The dangers of formula milk donations during emergencies have been extensively studied by UNICEF and the WHO. We are not being close-minded. Formula donation poses a real danger and does more harm than good. The current Milk Code recognizes this and formula milk during emergencies is only handed by a unit that can regulate and monitor the process. To read more about this, read Jenny’s very informative posts here and here.
In a parenting forum that I follow, the issue of unethical marketing by formula milk companies was raised, and one member said something like, “Why are you so affected? In the end, it’s the consumer’s choice.” Ok fine, let’s talk about advertising and choice. Let’s say you were offered two plates of food that seem to be the same.
*Food photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Which one would you choose for yourself? This is why we work on informing people about breastfeeding. The scale of informed choices is tipped in favor of milk companies because they have the money to run ads. Breastmilk is their direct competitor. Unfortunately, the manufacturers of breastmilk (yes that’s us) don’t have the billions of pesos in profit to run an ad on TV about how our milk is much better than theirs. Formula in itself is not evil. It has its uses. But it needs to be put in its place.
Hey if you choose to give formula, and do not want to breastfeed, that’s your choice. You’re lucky you can afford formula and can sustain it for you child. But for some people, it’s not a matter of just choice, but a matter of life and death. 16,000 infants die each year as a direct result of not breastfeeding, and that’s with the current Milk Code in place. Can you imagine what the numbers will be if they succeed in passing this law?
Breastfeeding doesn’t advertise. It’s not run by a conglomerate and is not out to make a profit. We are opposed to the Milk Monster Bill because it only protects the interests of companies who are out to make money inspite of the fact that their practices endanger children’s lives. The documentary “Formula for Disaster” spells out the effects of formula milk advertising very clearly. If you haven’t seen this film, follow these links to watch it:
 The lawmakers behind the Monster Bill say they are just concerned about the plight of those in the milk industry. I ask, what exactly is the plight of these milk companies? And how do they compare to the plight of thousands of children who suffer from illness and malnutrition because of their lack of concern and ethics?

Two original backers of the bill, Cong. Lani Mercado-Revilla and Cong. Lucy Torres-Gomez, have already retracted their support. However, more help is needed in order to inform our lawmakers that this Milk Monster bill will not improve our country’s health situation, only endanger it. The backer behind the bill, IPNAP (an association composed of formula milk companies) have a lot of money to throw around and are throwing a lot of it in the direction of getting this bill passed.

If you think about it, the real people that the formula milk companies are fighting are you and me. We are the sources of breastmilk, and they are trying very hard to make us believe we are not adequate for our own children.

You can help. Write a letter to your congress representative. You can find their email addresses in the directory on the HOR website. COANM has a draft you can start with, and you can add your own thoughts there.

We have no agenda, no vested interests, and nothing to gain for ourselves. If you believe in the cause, please help. We need all the voices who believe in breastfeeding to speak up.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2012 1:16 pm

    thanks for writing about this Elai! and i love your graphic!!

    • Eliza permalink
      September 13, 2012 12:13 am

      Ayan na share ko na sa FB!

  2. September 16, 2012 12:52 pm

    Great article, Eli!

    On a side note, would you know of current initiatives to help educate people about breastfeeding and its benefits? I feel that this is one of the things we should focus on to help equip women who do not have access to information about it so they’re able to make well-informed decisions for themselves and their babies. HMU please if there are current info drives because I’m very interested to join.

    • Eliza permalink
      September 18, 2012 6:43 pm

      Hmm, well I’m part of LATCH and we hold free breastfeeding classes, and our members initiate activities to help spread awareness. Most of them are involved in the No To The Milk Monster Bill movemement. There’s Arugaan who work more in the grassroots level. Nanay Nona’s group also does stuff with communities.

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