Voluntary code on the marketing of baby milk formula is a step forward
While the government has at this stage shied away from legislation restricting the health claims made by some products, a code will hopefully bring changes to some questionable practices
Advertising for baby milk formula is facing more and more restrictions the world over, and with good reasons. The health benefits claimed by leading formula brands can be so bewildering and difficult to prove that parents may not know how to make informed choices. The Hong Kong government has long recognised the problem and is moving towards regulation, though little progress has been made.
After years of study, the government believes a voluntary code limiting marketing practices is the way to go. According to a code which will be introduced in the next few months, promotions for formula, feeding bottles and dummies would be banned. Free product samples as well as advertising in health care facilities will also be disallowed. Restrictions on health claims in TV commercials and packaging may also be covered.
That the government has shied away from legislation at this stage has understandably disappointed some parents. Belated as it is, the code is still a step forward. Hopefully, it will bring changes to some questionable practices in the industry.
Officials said a code was preferred at this stage as they wanted to see how the market would respond, and they believed traders would not intentionally breach the rules. But given it is a lucrative business and there is no punishment for non-compliance, it would not be surprising if the problems prevail. It is good that the government has not ruled out the need of legislation later.
Regulation aside, there is a need to better educate consumers and to provide better support to breastfeeding mothers, be it at the workplace or public areas. It does not take an expert to tell that many of the so-called nutrients found in infant milk formula are readily available in breast milk. But many mothers have little choice but to turn to such products as a result of a lack of support for breastfeeding employees at the workplace. This is not helped when acceptance of breastfeeding in public places still leaves much to be desired. A lot more needs to be done to promote public awareness and acceptance on this front.