Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Milking the Innocent: Marketing Infant Formula at the Cost of Young Lives

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Milking the Innocent: Marketing Infant Formula at the Cost of Young Lives

Article excerpt

In the Philippines, as in much of the global South, infant formula powder is a booming industry. Television ads for formula feature prodigy violinists and boast of "brain building blocks" and "IQ nutrition systems." False advertising also leads mothers to believe that breast milk is interior, and that their bodies will not produce enough milk to nourish a child.

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Last September, more than a thousand breastfeeding mothers rallied in Quezon City. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has been distributing booklets emphasizing that "breast milk is important because it is a unique gift from God which no one can replace." Dr. Shigeru Omi, World Health Organization Director for the western Pacific Region, said, "The church has a major role in advocacy to promote breastfeeding and will greatly influence society."

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Breastfeeding benefits infants with balanced age-specific nutrition and immunities that prevent infections. UNICEF estimates that 1.3 million children die per year because they are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Medical research shows that formula-fed babies can suffer poor nutrition and growth and decreased IQ, along with numerous life-long risks. Formula, which comes in a powder that must be mixed with water, is especially dangerous in areas with poor access to clean drinking water; infants' weak immune systems are exposed to treacherous bacteria and viruses, starting a cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition.

A long with the industry's misleading promotions, health professionals in the Philippines often agree to promote formula to patients in return for incentives and commissions, as UNICEF's documentary Formula for Disaster highlights. Representatives from formula makers distribute brand-name merchandise and samples to healthcare facilities in an effort to entice new mothers into formula consumerism. If families start bottle-feeding with the free powder, milk production decreases; when the free samples run out, families are faced with the artificial need to bottle-feed. Impoverished families then struggle to buy substitute formula, often lessening the powder-to-water ratio to make the can last longer.

As a result of all these tactics, an astounding 84 percent of Filipino babies are formula-fed, even though bottle-feeding costs at least $43 a month--in a country where income averages $118 per month. This contributes to the fact that nearly one out of every three babies in the Philippines is underweight at age 1.

FORMULA COMPANIES have long been notorious for unethical marketing practices. …

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