Is baby food advertising unethical? Yes, thinks the government. It has issued notification to enforce an amendment to the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Food Act of 1992. In a major boost to breastfeeding the amendment bans, in all types of media, advertising for both infant food and milk substitutes for babies less than two years of age
Is baby food advertising unethical? Yes, thinks the government. It has issued notification to enforce an amendment to the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Food Act of 1992. In a major boost to breastfeeding the amendment bans, in all types of media, advertising for both infant food and milk substitutes for babies less than two years of age. The manufacturers of infant milk substitutes would now also be required to indicate that their product could only be given to children over six months of age, unlike the four-month period indicated earlier. The 1992 regulation hadn't accounted for this fact, used compellingly by baby food manufacturers in advertisments, such as the one (from Reader's Digest, November 2000) for Cerelac, a product of Nestl, that reads: "When my baby completed four months, I was really concerned about what solid foods to start him on. My doctor said that any solid food wasn't enough. He needed solid with nutrients in the right proportion to grow health and strong." The audience -- parents eager to give their babies the 'best' -- readily buy the claims and the products. "With manufacturers trying to promote their products as superior, the mothers feel guilty unless they give it to their children," says Mira Shiva from Voluntary Health Association of India, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation. Hopefully, such promotion would not be possible now.
The manufacturers try to appear their conforming best. "The existing regulation in India bans advertising of infant milk substitutes and Nestl India complies completely. The new notification now extends this restriction to infant foods and we will respect it," says Himanshu Manglik, communications manager, Nestl India Limited. It is a different thing that Nestl is facing an international boycott in 20 countries until it abides with the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes, as formulated by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund.
With the fear of losing revenues, the industry is likely to look for, and find, loopholes even in the amended law. Surrogate advertising, which is being heavily employed by the alcohol industry, may be also resorted to. "We will just have to wait and see what strategy the industry uses, which would be the basis of our future action," says Vandana Sabharwal, project officer, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, a national network of organizations and individuals. Nutrition experts the world over have long questioned the claimed merits of infant foods. They advocate exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and breast milk with foods for 18 months thereafter.
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