Friday, June 22, 2007

Baby Formula Goes On Trial In Asia

For decades, moms everywhere have been told that "breast is best" for babies. Health care experts say that message goes double in the developing world, where clean water for bottle-feeding is a luxury and, they say, breast-feeding can be a key factor in an infant's survival.

Health experts say U.S. companies are among those using aggressive marketing to hawk infant formula in Asia's dynamic economies, the same kinds of tactics that sparked a boycott campaign of Nestle products in the 1970s. This led to the adoption in 1981 of a global marketing code for such products.

That isn't the message that Ding Bing says she got from her managers at Nestlé in China where she worked for five years as a marketing rep for infant formula. Ms. Ding, who spoke by telephone from the UNICEF/WHO conference, said the Swiss company told expecting mothers attending antenatal classes that Nestlé's Good Start formula was superior and that many of them would be unable to produce sufficient breast milk for their baby.

"The company told the staff that infant formula is better. It didn't tell us that mother's milk is enough; they couldn't tell us the truth," she says.

Breast milk contains antibodies and enzymes that speed the healthy growth and development of infants and may also lower the risk of chronic diseases later in life, according to WHO.

Struggling parents who opt for formula often dilute the product or substitute rice flour and other powders that lack essential nutrients, say health experts. In the Philippines, where bottle-feeding costs a minimum $43 a month, an estimated 16,000 infants under 5 die annually because of such practices, according to UNICEF. Campaigners point to Cambodia as a sign of what can go right. A national campaign there has raised breast-feeding rates at six months to 60 percent, up from 10 percent in 2000. Over the same period, child mortality fell by one-third, a huge gain that can only be explained by the switch to breast milk, says Karen Codling, a nutritionist for UNICEF.

I hae avoided buying Nestle products for years because of this issue. Nestle kept claiming that they had changeed their ways. The first couple of times, I took them at their word, and started buying their products again. Then I caught on to them. Too bad psychopaths have an advantage in the business world.

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