Formula makers eye ads code

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 July, 2011, 12:00am


Months after pharmacists criticised the accuracy of milk-formula advertisements, six major manufacturers have joined up to draft a code of practice governing marketing.

Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle Hong Kong, Wyeth, Friesland Campina, Danone Baby Nutrition and Abbott Laboratories, which account for 90 per cent of the local milk-formula market, have formed the Hong Kong Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association.

They aim to release a code on the promotion of milk formula targeting babies up to six months old. It could be out before the government introduces its own voluntary guidelines for the industry this year.

While details of the code had yet to be finalised, the association would consider advising makers to add reminders about the advantages of breastfeeding in their ads, vice-president Florence Wong said.

The association's initiative comes after the Society of Hospital Pharmacists complained in April that some ads claiming milk formula could facilitate brain development or prevent constipation were misleading.

The code is based on international guidelines for marketing breast-milk substitutes drawn up by the World Health Organisation in 1981, according to the association. 'The WHO recommends that each region make its own localised guidelines. There are similar codes in New Zealand and Singapore,' president Clarence Chung said.

Some groups demand that manufacturers stop all advertising of baby or infant formulas and refrain from providing free samples.

While the WHO advised against advertising for breast-milk substitutes, manufacturers could get around this by advertising infant formulas instead of baby formulas, Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers' Association vice chairwoman Tang Miu-chi said. 'Baby and infant formulas have extremely similar packages,' she added.

Tang said the practice of handing out free milk powder to members of 'mothers' clubs' and people visiting family-health services should be discouraged, as it reduced the incentive for mothers to breastfeed.

Society of Hospital Pharmacists vice-president William Chui Chun-ming supported a total ban on advertisements. 'All milk formulas have similar ingredients, as they have to fulfil the same WHO requirements. The difference between brands is insignificant,' he said.

Some brands that contain more of the fatty acid DHA have claimed it could be beneficial to the development of children's brains. This was misleading, as fatty acids were essential for the brain, but it might not be beneficial to have as much of them as possible, Chui said. As for stopping constipation, it would be more effective for parents to let babies drink more water than to choose a particular milk-formula brand, he added.

In 2008, a survey found that about 77 per cent of local babies were breastfed when born, but only 24 per cent were still fed their mothers' milk by the time they reached six months.