The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   N E W S W A T C H

Infant Formula Manufacturers Urge Rejection of U.N. Code

U.S. infant formula manufacturers last month launched a coordinated lobbying campaign to convince government officials that the United States should vote against a code for infant formula marketing practices which is under consideration by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The manufacturers - Bristol-Myers Co., Abbott Laboratories, and American Home Products Corp. - issued a joint statement in mid-March which called the W HO draft resolution "a set of highly specific and restrictive rules that would virtually eliminate legitimate competition and promotion of infant formula products even to the medical community." And in hearings April 3 before the 10-agency government panel which is drawing up recommendations for U.S. policy concerning the code, representatives of the three firms strongly objected to WHO's plan to encourage regulation of the way infant formula companies market their products in developing countries. WHO has cited the detrimental health effects that use of breastmilk substitutes can produce, such as gastrointestinal diseases caused ' by unsterilized bottle, lack of refrigeration, or unsafe water, and malnutrition if the family cannot afford to use formula in the proper proportion with water.

By far the largest marketer of infant formula abroad is the Swiss giant Nestle, which has been embroiled for years in controversy over its marketing practices and public relations efforts (see MM, vol. 2, no. 2). American Home Products also sells most of its infant formula overseas, while Bristol-Myers and Abbott produce primarily for the U.S. market.

At WHO's annual meeting in May, member-countries will decide whether to pass the draft resolution as a "regulation" with binding effect in WHO member nations, or as a "recommendation" with moral and political weight but no legal impact. "There's no doubt that we would vote 'No' on the code in the form of regulations," declared Neil Boyer of the State Department's Office for Health and international Affairs.

Doug Johnson, national chair person of the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT) predicts that "the U.S. will vote against (the resolution) across the board. I think most countries in the world, including our European allies, will vote for it. The U.S. is going to be very isolated and we'll lose a lot of credibility with developing countries because of it."

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