• Wed, Apr 4 2007

Should You Boycott Nestlé?

fight-the-nestle-monster-logo-from-baby-milk-action-2.jpg

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).

science-and-health-theme-day.jpgFor more posts on global science and health issues, check out the b5media Science and Health Theme Day round-up hosted by Jul at VeggieChic.

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  • http://www.veggiechic.com Jul

    Wow, I didn’t realize just how many brands were owned by Nestle until I looked at that list. They seem to control the entire Swiss food market (I guess I should have suspected as much, since they are a Swiss company). I rarely buy prepacked branded foods of any kind, though, so I am happy to report that I’m managing to avoid supporting them despite their ubiquity.

  • http://www.gagaforlulu.com Kendra

    When I read about what Nestle did in the past, I am utterly disgusted, especially since some of their targets were the under educated and impoverished. The only thing that really strikes a ping in me though is this type of statement:
    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 breast milk.” Where do you think they got that mistaken impression?
    My third was bottle fed, due to various health reasons, and is just fine. We all do what is best for our situation, and should not be made to feel like less of a mommy or inadequate. I respect all mommies choices on this issue and would hope that they would also reciprocate and be open to others choices. Good article, it is sure to stir the pot and have some good comments. :)

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    Kendra, it is never my intention to make any mother feel bad! My only desire is to support mothers who wish to breastfeed, for as long as they wish to do so. Deceptive marketing practices get in the way of that goal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Niki

    You know, I understand your concerned, but I am getting really sick of the people that are against formula. My son is 8 months old and he never got breast milk because mine never came in and lord knows I tried. In fact, a woman at WIC told me to feeding my starving 120 lb baby with a dropper after I pumped what I could!!! I pumped and pumped for weeks until it hurt and my breasts were sore and my baby was still hungry, so we went on formula and after trying formula we found out he is allergic to milk anyway.

    So, while I understand where you are coming from, my son’s life depends on formula (however, we do use Enfamil and luckily WIC pays for it). So, please try to maintain a level of support all mothers. Personally, I am tired of hearing about how bad a mother is because she doesn’t breast feed.

  • Niki

    Sorry, that’s supposed to be 10 lb baby.

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    Niki – I’m not anti-formula but rather I am against the type of marketing that undermines breastfeeding. It’s not my intention that my criticism of formula makers be interpreted as a criticism of formula-feeding mothers. In fact, formula-feeding mothers perhaps wield the most power against particular formula companies like Nestle with their ability to choose how to use their purchasing power. All mothers can boycott Nestle brand formulas to send a message that the company’s practices are wrong.

    You obviously worked hard to breastfeed and I would never criticize any mother or assume to know what she went through.

    That does not stop me from lamenting the lack of adequate breastfeeding support and medical information combined with the onslaught of deceptive formula advertising.

    (Just for the record and only because you mentioned it, a mother can still breastfeed if her baby is allergic to milk. Mother’s milk is not the same as cow’s milk. If a mother eliminates dairy from her diet the child with a milk allergy can benefit from her milk and studies have actually shown that one of the best ways to prevent/minimize allergies is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months).

    Thanks Niki for voicing your opinion. Dissenting opinions are always welcome. It’s great to have a spirited discussion!

  • Eilat

    Although I “voted” that “I will Now” boycott Nestle products, after looking a the list I guess I already do by default ;-)

    In fact, when my sister-in-law’s due date was nearing with her second baby, she asked me and my husband to pick up a can of GoodStarts “just in case” breastfeeding didn’t work out. It didn’t with her first baby, so she was nervous/skeptical.

    I felt that having the “just in case” can of formula sitting right there would make it so easy to reach for the bottle if she had any difficulties. I offered instead to spend several days as soon as she got back from the hospital to help her with bf-ing. My son was a year old and bf-ing was going great for us. She was angry, but I had never bought formula and I couldn’t stand the thought of giving them any money that they can then use to undermine more women’s efforts to breastfeed. She took me up on my offer and its been going well for 7 months.

  • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

    Eilat, what a generous thing you’ve done for your sister-in-law! I really think that mother-to-mother support is one of the most powerful ways to encourage breastfeeding and ensure its success.

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  • http://www.babymilkaction.org Aran

    yep, here an update on what nestle are doing and why the boycott is still so needed…

    Eye witness evidence of Nestlé malpractice on eve of demonstration

    Nestlé is the target of an international boycott because of its aggressive marketing of baby foods. A newspaper article and new film reveal how Nestlé continues to undermine breastfeeding, breaking international marketing standards, where laws have yet to be introduced and enforced.

    People are always wanting to know whether Nestlé and other baby food companies are still misbehaving in the way they push their products. What is going on right now? The article in The Guardian on Tuesday was the journalist’s eye witness account from Bangladesh. See:
    http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/05/guardian-investigates-nestl-in.html

    Now you can see for yourself what is happening in the Philippines. This is a new film from UNICEF Philippines. We are contacting UNICEF to see if we can make this available on DVD. You can register your interest in having a copy – see below. In the meantime you can watch the clips UNICEF has posted today on Youtube. They are gathered together at:
    http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/05/watch-film-from-philippines-here.html

    This fresh confirmation of malpractice, further substantiates the documentary evidence gathered by Baby Milk Action and partners in the International Baby Food Action Network. Globally, IBFAN monitoring finds Nestlé to be the worst of the baby food companies, which is why it is targeted with boycott action. There will be a demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ on Saturday 19 May 11:00-12:00 and at other sites, shopping centres and Body Shop outlets around the country. See:
    http://www.babymilkaction.org/action/demo07.html

    We have just a few weeks left in our campaign of support for the Philippines to save the marketing regulations that could stop the type of practices you see in the film. At present the industry is winning and the regulations have been suspended by the Supreme Court. We need your help to make the regulations law.

    The clips show how baby food companies undermine breastfeeding, contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants.

    You can see the conditions under which mothers are using formula. You can see some of the company promotions. You can hear health workers explaining the pressure they are under to recommend company products. You can listen to recordings given by hidden company representatives, who explain the strategies they are taught to use.

    The film also explains how the government has introduced regulations to try to stop the aggressive marketing which undermines breastfeeding. Some mothers are convinced that their babies will be more intelligent if they use formula. If mothers have problems with breastfeeding, the promotion means they are more likely to think switching to formula will give their child the same or better benefits as breastfeeding and so will be less likely to seek support for breastfeeding.

    The marketing regulations have been challenged by the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (which does not include Nestlé, which has opposed the measure in other ways). They want to carry on with business as usual.

    After the US Chamber of Commerce put pressure on the President of the Philippines, the Supreme Court blocked the regulations. Next month the Supreme Court will rule on whether the regulations will stand or be struck down.

    We have been campaigning in support of the Philippines and many of you will already have signed our petition of solidarity. If you have not, please do so now. The campaign to date has generated newspaper headlines in the Philippines and other countries. See:
    http://www.babymilkaction.org/philippines/

    If you would like a DVD of the film if we can make it available, you can register your interest via our on-line Virtual Shop and we will contact you on a first-come, first-served basis with the price once we have set this up. See
    http://www.babymilkaction.org/

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  • mikebrady

    Nestle’s latest global strategy (2010) is to promote its baby milk with the claim that it ‘protects’ babies, claiming it aids brain and eye development and supports the immune system. It has added prominent, colourful logos to product labels in 120 countries, undermining the obligatory ‘breastmilk is best for babies’ warnings that the boycott campaign helped to bring in. Nestle’s claims do not stand up to scrutiny and break the international marketing standards Nestle says it supports.

    According to UNICEF: “Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year”. As UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, governments and health campaigners try to spread the message that breastfeeding protects babies, Nestle is using its massive resources to try to convince mothers and health workers that its baby milk ‘protects’.

    For further information and a message that takes ONE MINUTE to send to Nestlé, see:
    http://info.babymilkaction.org/news/campaignblog260510