Bill published to crack down on formula milk promotion

A new Bill has been published today (Tuesday 21st February) which will tackle the “excessive and misleading marketing techniques” deployed by infant formula milk companies.

The proposed law, which is due for second reading in Parliament later this week, has been welcomed by health professionals, parents and campaigning groups – including Unicef Baby Friendly.

The new legislation, drafted by Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, will:

– Introduce plain packaging for all formula milks;
– Establish a body, totally independent of industry, to test all products and verify the claims of manufacturers prior to them being licensed for sale;
– Ban the use of misleading terms such as “follow-on” or “growing-up” formula milks;
– Stop companies from circumventing existing laws by introducing a ban on identical packaging for stage two and subsequent products;
– Prohibit formula companies from advertising in health journals and magazines;
– Bring forward tougher penalties for companies who flout the legislation, including greater financial fines and prison sentences for company CEOs;
– Ban advertising of formula milks on TV, social media, the internet and through parenting clubs.

Alison Thewliss MP – who chairs the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities – said:

The Bill I have published today is a major step forward in tackling the excessive and misleading marketing techniques deployed by formula milk companies.

“For too long, these enormously powerful multi-nationals have been pushing the boundaries and circumventing existing legislation to relentlessly promote their products to parents and families. The more we see new aggressive marketing techniques, the more we see ever higher prices for formula milk, which is borne by the consumer.

“I absolutely understand and respect that some families will choose to use formula milk; this is absolutely not about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. I want to make sure parents are protected from misleading advertising and can access impartial, trusted information when making feeding decisions for their children. The consultation I carried out demonstrated that many parents are making decisions based on marketing alone, which is deeply worrying.

“There have been examples of products being recalled or discontinued after they make it to the shelves, for example for being found to have excessive protein. Other concerns include the introduction of prebiotics, which may not be necessary. Without an independent agency to test these products and verify the claims being made by companies, we have a situation of self-policing which simply isn’t working.

“Under the current arrangement, formula companies are also banned from advertising formula milks for new babies but they simply get around this by branding their products almost identically, with packaging showing stages 1, 2, 3. “Follow-on” or “growing up” milks look the same as their baby milks, so parents are led to assume there is a progression. The reality is that there is generally no need for formula after the age of one. This loophole is costing families dear, with most formulas costing around £10 per packet.

“For too long, formula companies have been running roughshod over the 2007 legislation which is no longer fit for purpose. In addition, the consumer has been picking up the cost for an ever increasing marketing war – this Bill will go some way to ending this and ensuring that parents are free from commercial influence and pressure when making choices about how they feed their children”.

14 thoughts on “Bill published to crack down on formula milk promotion

  1. I am one part of a blogging team from Glasgow called frankaboutfeeding.com
    Our aim is to support women to achieve their feeding goals. We both have turned to formula when breastfeeding has failed. We both feel that as a nation we should be focusing on helping women with feeding, with particular attention in the postpartum period. If women achieved their feeding goals then the formula industry would naturally shrink, baring in mind that 80% of women choose to breastfeed but currently only 30% are doing so at 6 months.

    That said, I agree with most of the points raised by your bill. In particular, establishing an independent body to test products. The only thing that I find uncomfortable is making packaging plain. Too often formula mum’s are compared to smokers. We have many women who have contacted us to tell us of the guilt they have in formula feeding (remember we are talking mainly about a cohort of women who have failed at their first steps into motherhood). Yes remove any false or misleading information but don’t make women feel they are poisoning their babies. This is such an error.

    • Plain packaging is neutral in terms of marketing, marketing is very clever and subtle ….it has no place in providing informed, unbiased decision making…women should not be influenced by marketing in choosing feeding for their babies.

      • Perhaps you are correct, but if we apply this then ALL children’s food should be in plain packaging. This would remove any issues of stigma with formula and perhaps would tackle advertising of sweet treats etc at children.

  2. Really good interview on BBC, well handled comments from the mum blogger and presenters. Good to see formula discussed with minimal reference to breastfeeding. The formula companies do influence parents. Totally agree that firm regulation of artificial milk and its “benefits” need to be regulated

  3. While I agree with a lot of the points above this inevitably does raise the ‘breast’ vs ‘bottle’ debate. Being a new mum who was unable to breastfeed (it was not a choice!) I really struggled with feelings of guilt and failure despite how well my little boy was doing or how good our bond had always been. The lack of information and advice for formula feeding made the situation even harder and I feel selling formula in plain packaging will only add to these issues. Yes the industry should be carefully monitored but we should be supporting all new mothers, including those who bottle feed either through choice or necessity, rather than making them feel they have failed in some way .

    • I 100% agree, I am a new mum and was unable to breatfeed but can say I read this and was overwhelmed with guilt. Promoting breastfeeding is amazing and people should be very proud but using words like ‘women who have failed at the first steps into motherhood’ is absolutely disgraceful. My son is well fed, looked after and we have an amazing bond, this bill makes you feel like your doing something not good but not quite illegal. Smoking has plain packaging and this is what they are treating it as, I am absolutely furious about this, there should be more help for women who cannot breastfeed, I know there is a lot for women who do breastfeed. Breast maybe best but it was not best for my son, personally as long as your baby is well fed, well looked after and loved unconditionally then your doing an amazing job and don’t need to be told any different.

      • You are quite right. My language was ill advised and I should gave been more clear. I can only speak from my personal experience and that was that I felt like I had failed in my first steps into motherhood. I don’t feel like a failure now. I know it was the system that failed me but at first, I felt like I failed my son. My first job as a mother was to feed my boy and I couldn’t. I need to be more careful with my language and I apologise if it caused offence.

  4. I was ready to come on here and stick up for formula feeding mums thinking this was another attack on them but I actually agree with this bill after reading it. Good work. Good to know people who choose to formula feed are being protected in this way. Not sure about the plain packaging though. I like to know what’s in what I feed my baby! Perhaps the Minister could also do something about the breast feeding information provided to new mums. It’s only the positives we are told about, none of the negatives. I would still have wanted to do it if I was told about the negative side and would have been more prepared for how hard it can be at first. I think many mums, including myself, would persevere with feeding for longer if they had all information available to them- good and bad!

  5. Up until I was 30 I had a real problem with breastfeeding. It was unnatural, weird, even perverted.

    That’s until I had my first baby. I wanted to mix feed, I wanted to be in on the act. My wife and (independent) Midwife said no. I was being a brat, and quite frankly I was putting myself before the baby.

    My wife struggled at first, her nipples looked like they might actually fall off, but for the good of our daughter she continued. Fortunately we found baby had a tounge tie, and one breastfeeding consultation later she continued to feed her for the next 3 years.

    And I am proud of that.

    I went away and read about the benefits, not just about the milk, but the process of feeding itself.

    Sadly not everyone is as headstrong as my wife. Advertising works. My old marketing teacher used to say adverts don’t make us buy a product but persuade us which one to choose.

    Which is where I was for all those years before I grew up. All those images and messages for decades imprinted on my brain. Formula feeding is just as good, only weirdos breastfeed, look at the fun they are having feeding.

    I am not surprised as a nation our heads are turned.

    If we continue to ignore the power of marketing we are doing mothers of today and tomorrow, and our children a complete disservice.

    Thank you for this bill.

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