Let me put it this way instead: if you aren’t boycotting Nestlé, why not? Do you know:
~ The original Nestlé boycott started in 1977 in protest of Nestlé’s unethical, aggressive and patently harmful marketing of artificial baby milk in Third World countries. The company engaged women to dress up like nurses and distribute free samples that lasted just long enough to dry up a mother’s own breast milk. Impoverished women who could not afford to purchase enough of the expensive artificial milk would resort to diluting it with excess amounts of water which led to infant malnutrition. Furthermore, artificial milk prepared with unsanitary water supplies led to unnecessary illness. Add in the fact that the infants were not protected by the antibodies present in human breast milk and children were suffering and dying needlessly as a consequence of Nestlé’s deceptive marketing tactics.
~ While the boycott was suspended temporarily in the 1980s, renewed efforts are underway in 20 countries around the world. Nestlé’s marketing practices continue to violate the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes (PDF document).
~ If you think Nestlé’s aggressive advertising practices only affect people in Third World countries, think again. A full 25.7% of surveyed adults in the United States recently agreed with the false statement that artificial baby milk is “as good as breastmilk.” Where do you think they got that mistaken impression?
~ UNICEF states: “If all babies were fed only breastmilk for the first six months of life, the lives of an estimated 1.5 million infants would be saved every year and the health and development of millions of others would be greatly improved.” I repeat: 1.5 million innocent lives per year.
Breastfeeding and the Artificial Baby Milk Industry
~ A 12-ounce can of powdered artificial milk costs U.S. $12-$15.
~ The artificial milk industry is big business–$3.5 billion per year in the United States alone.
~ Studies repeatedly demonstrate that offering free hospital gift bags containing powdered milk samples results in lower breastfeeding rates. Several major hospitals, including all 11 public hospitals in New York City, have begun banning the freebies.
~ While 70% of U.S. women initiate breastfeeding, only 13% are exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
~ Every 30 seconds a baby dies from unsafe bottlefeeding. Every day, 3,000 to 4,000 babies die without breast milk to safeguard their health.
Why Nestlé in particular?
It’s the most egregious marketing offender according to independent monitoring of WHO Code violations by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). Nestlé is the world’s largest food manufacturer. It controls 40% of the baby food market around the world and operates in over 80 countries worldwide.
While Nestlé started as an artificial milk producer the 1860s, its business now includes coffee, chocolate, water, ice cream, household staples, pasta, pet food and more! For a full list of major brand names to boycott, see this list of main brands.
What do other leading experts think?
La Leche League International does not explicitly endorse the boycott but does support it in the sense that the organization and its volunteer leaders provide information about the boycott when asked as part of their efforts to promote breastfeeding and respect for the WHO Code.
Just a few months ago pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon lambasted Bill Gates for his Nestlé investments.
What does Nestlé have to say?
You can read some of the company’s rebuttal to the boycott arguments on Baby Milk Action’s debate page. Here is the extent of what Nestlé has to say about the boycott on its corporate website:
Nestlé managed to put an end to a serious controversy over its marketing of [artificial baby milk] in the Third World. This debate had led to a boycott of Nestlé products by certain lay and religious organizations. This issue is still alive in some quarters, but there is no longer any significant boycott activity.
Okay…. Anyone have anything to say about that?
Personally I don’t have any problem–ethical or practical–boycotting Nestlé. I eschew processed foods in favor of locally-grown organic foods as much as possible anyway. It’s all part of setting a good example for my children and helping them develop healthy eating habits right from the start. What do you think?
[Edited to link to poll results here].
Feel free to leave a comment as well!
Sources: Baby Milk Action; Breastfeeding.com; INFACT Canada Nestlé Boycott Fact Sheet (PDF); Gentlemothering.ca (PDF); Zimmerman, Rachel, “Baby Goody Bags May Be on the Way Out.” Wall Street Journal (Feb. 27, 2007).
For more posts on global science and health issues, check out the b5media Science and Health Theme Day round-up hosted by Jul at VeggieChic.