Controls on formula ads long overdue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 5:59am

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see the full page advert from the Hong Kong Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association, aka the manufacturers of formula milk, in the South China Morning Post, on November 23.

Finally the Hong Kong government is proposing steps to restrict their completely inappropriate marketing practices so it would be expected that they would spend some of their HK$1.6 billion marketing budget on fighting the proposal.

True to form, however, you would not know that this is what the Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants & Young Children, does from their advert. They state that "organisations" are restricted in providing information about breastfeeding and formula milk; well, no, not organisations, just manufacturers and distributors of formula milk. And, in fact, they can still provide information under the code, but it has to be objective and scientifically proven, which would rule out most of the outrageous, brand-based claims that they currently make.

Hong Kong has been a big market for formula manufacturers, as many countries have introduced legislation to prohibit these practices in line with recommendations of the World Health Organisation, which the association states that it supports. This statement doesn't quite fit with the fact that, in Hong Kong, all 10 areas of the WHO code are breached by them every day.

Let parents be truly informed by removing the huge bias in information that they currently receive via marketing practices designed to increase profits. It explains why 50 per cent of Hong Kong parents currently believe that formula contains unique ingredients that are not available in any other form of nutrition, a statement that is true about breast milk but not about formula.

Caroline Carson, Shouson Hill