A leading milk powder maker has hit out at the government's plan to introduce a voluntary code to discourage advertisers from exaggerating the benefits of infant formula.
Instead, Mead Johnson Nutrition wants to see legislation that would ban advertising of milk powder for children younger than six months.
Peter Van Dael, a Mead Johnson vice-president, believes the code would be ineffectual. 'We are very sad to see that coming. Personally, I am not in favour of this kind of rule,' he said. 'The problem with a voluntary guideline is not everyone in the industry will obey it, [but] when bad things happen, the blame will be on the whole industry.'
Mead Johnson says it has submitted several letters to the government to request a meeting to discuss the code, but has yet to get a reply.
Local mothers' groups have demanded the legalisation of the local Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, as many are concerned about infant formula advertisements that imply it is better than breast milk.
The government is however standing by its voluntary code, which covers marketing practices and labelling of milk, food and milk bottles for children under three years of age.
The code is expected to be completed soon and enacted by the first half of next year.
According to the Department of Health, Hong Kong's attempted breastfeeding rate was 80 per cent in 2010. That fell to 14.8 per cent when the babies reached four to six months of age
Breastfeeding groups said the figure fell when new mothers had to return to work.
Furthermore, some women were being misled into thinking that infant formula contains more nutrients than breast milk.
World experts say it may take a decade to correct the public perception, given the similar experience in the United States.