The Multinational Monitor


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Zimbabwe Publishes a Pamphlet Attacking Nestle Over Infant Feeding

The government of Zimbabwe recently denounced the Nestle company for promoting infant formula in ways "that only serve to promote the gain of Nestle - at the expense of the Zimbabwean people."

In a 62-page booklet released on January 15, Zimbabwe's ministry of health documented a number of Nestle activities in Zimbabwe that directly contravene the International Code of Marketing approved by the World Health Organization last May.

"Mothers are still being pressured into using formula," states the booklet, Baby Feeding - Behind and Towards a Health Model for Zimbabwe.

Infant formula - artificial milk for babies - can cause serious malnutrition and death when used improperly.

The Swiss-based Nestle company is "the major seller of breastmilk substitutes in Zimbabwe," the booklet notes. "About 13,890 infants in Zimbabwe are fed with the formula," it says, adding that the numbers are on the rise.

In 1980, Nestle's Zimbabwe subsidiary had sales of $7,248,000.

Nestle engages in an aggressive campaign of "indirect advertising," the government booklet charges. The company employs "four Nestle `medical delegates' " to travel throughout the country promoting infant formula in meetings with health workers, pregnant women and mothers. "Nestle's representatives," the report says, "usually give samples of their baby food products to health units they visit."

Nestle also passes out "company health cards, leaflets and calendars" to influence mothers to use infant formula, the booklet says. The Nestle leaflet, Progressive Feeding for Baby, for instance, "implies that bottle-feeding is the normal way of feeding an infant," says the government document. And "the Nestle Calendar for 1981 was seen on the walls" of health institutions across the country, the booklet states. "It shows a chubby (some nutritionists say obese) baby, flanked by pictures of boxes" of Nestle's infant formula.

The health ministry booklet says Nestle has waged an "extremely effective campaign" to promote its products. "There is, it seems, a general inability or unwillingness to connect the company's activities with the interest of a giant multinational corporation which only exists to make money and to increase its markets and profits."

Nestle claims the booklet contains "the usual erroneous criticisms of the infant food industry, and in particular, tendentious statements concerning the local Nestle subsidiary," according to a company statement issued on January 19.

Nestle lobbied hard to prevent publication of the booklet, which was originally planned for release last July. The local Nestle subsidiary took the matter up with "the attorney general of Zimbabwe," says Saidi Shomari, UNICEF's Zimbabwe representative. There were reports that the company threatened to sue the government, but Nestle denies this.

The Zimbabwe booklet was funded by a $21,000 UNICEF grant. The government printed 25,000 free copies of the booklet, which stresses the value of breast-feeding and recommends practical steps to guard against "the dangers of bottle feeding."

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