Ban on free milk formula samples for newborns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am


Giving out free samples of milk formula for newborns will be banned under a new code of practice drawn up by manufacturers, an industry association said yesterday.

The self-governing code, to be rolled out by the end of this year, would apply to babies up to the age of six months, the Hong Kong Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association said. The group was formed by formula brands Mead Johnson, Nestle, Wyeth, FrieslandCampina, Danone and Abbott.

Public hospitals stopped giving out free milk formula samples last year but some manufacturers continue the practice in private hospitals and will have to stop once the code comes into effect.

Under the code, complaints can be filed with the association and the complaint will be passed to the named manufacturer, which should respond within 14 working days. If the complainant is still not satisfied, the case will be heard by a committee comprising a trade member and two from outside the business.

Companies can be fined up to HK$100,000 under the code. Repeated breaches will lead to suspension or cancellation of membership in the association and that will be announced in newspapers.

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists complained in April about misleading adverts that claimed milk formula could promote brain development and prevent constipation. But the new code will not apply to them, since those products are aimed at infants over six months old.

Association president Clarence Chung Chi-wai said: 'The code is formulated based on the World Health Organisation's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which set the limit at six months old.' Singapore and New Zealand hadadopted similar codes, he said.

Breastfeeding advocates said the code would be of little significance unless its coverage was broadened.

Tang Miu-chi, vice-chairwoman of the Breastfeeding Mothers' Association, said the ban's effectiveness would be limited because of the similar packaging used on milk formula for babies and infants. 'Most people can't tell the difference. When they watch ads for infants' milk formula, they will associate them with those targeting babies younger than six months old,' she said.

By claiming milk formulas make babies healthier and wiser, the ads would discourage breastfeeding, she said. Australia and the Philippines banned all formula adverts, she said.

Dr Ip Lai-sheung, chairman of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association, said most hospitals would stop distributing free samples before the code's launch.

By the end of this year, the government will start a consultation on regulations overseeing the marketing of breast milk substitutes.