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Should I write a complaint letter about this?

(19 Posts)
WellieMum Sat 29-Jan-05 01:37:19

Hi All

Just wondering if I'm overreacting here! I'd appreciate some opinions.

Just to fill you in on the background: I live in New Zealand, and instead of health visitors we have the Plunket Organisation. They have clinics staffed by nurses and as far as I can see, it's fairly similar to the NHS/HV system. The big difference is that the Plunket system is free to use, but not entirely govt funded.

OK, I promise all that was relevant! So, I took dd along for one of the routine checks, when she was about 15 weeks or so.

I was handed an entire forests-worth of information pamphlets, including one about weaning. Now, this weaning pamphlet is the official Plunket info sheet, and I was a little concerned to see that it recommends weaning from 4-6 months of age, ie not really up-to-date with current recommendations by WHO and others.

All was revealed as I read further, to find that the leaflet has been written and sponsored by........ yes, Watties, makers of baby food! Amongst the "information" offered is an explanation of which colour Watties jars are appropriate for which age. They even hint that it's safer to give certain foods from a Watties jar than to cook at home !

Now, turkeys aren't going to vote for Christmas and Watties are in business to make money and good luck to them, but does anyone else think that it's a bit creepy that we're being given such biased information about feeding our babies?

Mentioned my concerns to the nurse the next time I went there and she was completely calm, said they advise people to wean from 5-6 months actually, but allowed Watties to say 4-6 months as they (ie Plunket) need the funding

It's all very well for me, I have the knowledge and confidence to challenge what I'm told, (translation: I'm a know-all and a pain in the bum), but I do worry that a less confident mum with less access to information might take all that as official advice when in fact it's just advertising.

Am thinking of taking it further and writing a complaint letter to Plunket head office or whatever they have.

Am I overreacting completely? Has my lack of experience with privately funded healthcare left me hopelessly naive? Am I looking for ways to avoid the studying for exams that I know I should be doing today ?

If anyone has got this far, I'd be interested to know their thoughts on this! Ranted at dp and got a "yes, dear" type response so will understand if I get the same here...

suzywong Sat 29-Jan-05 01:56:56

Hmm... well the nurse has got a point I'm afraid.
Whilst I completely understand where you are coming from and how cross-making it is that corporations are so insidious and twist the truth, I'm afraid that is nothing new. I am in Aus now but I had my kids in the UK and the "Bounty Pack" that all new mothers had rammed down their throats contained birth registration forms and benefit forms and a lot of "information" produced and sponosored by baby food manufacturers and Johnsons et al. And yes those of us with the knowledge and confidence to gather our information from other sources escape unscathed and those of us that are not do not.

I think the NHS allow the Bounty Packs because the women who distribute them (nag you unti you take them, I saw one woman follow a girl in to the shower to take hers on the maternity ward) get a commission or some kind of payment from the big companies and therefore it saves the NHS a few bob. And the same palm greasing would seem to apply where you are.

I don 't like it at all, I refused my Bounty Pack with ds2, but realistically I don't see what can be done unless funding can be found elsewhere

bobbybob Sat 29-Jan-05 03:30:53

I live in NZ too and when my ds was the same age it made me livid. I complained to Watties and got nowhere.

At the same time Woolworths (supermarket - same as Foodtown for you) had temporary price reductions on first formula. I complained and got nowhere. Woolworths had just become a major sponsor of Plunket.

Both of these are against the internation code of infant feeding or whatever it's called, however NZ doesn't follow the code, allowing the manufacturers to self regulate. As Plunket are effectively condoning their behaviour by allowing both these organisations as sponsors I think they would be meeting the criteria for self regulation. It sucks though.

BTW have you seen the weaning video made by watties - it makes pureeing seem sooooooooooo hard that you would be mad to do it. When actually it's a piece of cake.

I'm sure the potty training leaflet (no doubt sponsored by Huggies) will have a smiliar amount of commercial bias.

I'm now on a local Plunket Committee and I'm afraid that I have seen how much they need that money...still makes me mad though.

I think the complaint needs to go to someone in Government, as if Watties etc. were taken to task under the infant feeding code then the Plunket funding would continue and the labelling would change.

Stripymouse Sat 29-Jan-05 08:25:53

In England we have a lot of pamphlets and hv/mw videos funded by baby food, nappy and bottle milk. They have tightened up over the recent years, having to put in that "breast feeding is best but..." type statements and mws are quick to point out the funding issue and to ignore any obvious bias. Same with the Bounty packs that we are all given - they have less than perfect samples in them from all sorts of people, disposable nappies, weaning food, non environmentally friendly washing powder samples etc etc.
TBH, I agree that it is all wrong for companies to use the opportunity to push their brands on tired and easily influenced mums (particularly first timers not feeling confident). It is a shame that these companies con’t feel able to just offer the funding with no strings attached but I guess they wouldnt bother if there was no obvious financial incentive. Equally, it would be lovely to thnk that all of this advice in the form of leaflets and videos were funded by the government but I guess they are busy spending our money in more "useful ways"...

The best you could hope for is to enforce some restrictions on the adverts as has been done (I believe) in this country. I am betting though that it won’t be easy, you will be ignored and patronised endlessly and few people are likely to be as fired up as you are to see it through. Not trying to put you off because I think it is a worthy campaign, just trying to be realistic. If you do go for it and make it a real issue, good luck and keep us posted.

Stripymouse Sat 29-Jan-05 08:28:43

I reckon it has also been an issue for decades - my mum tells the story that when she had me in a local cottage hospital, the bloke from the pub would come in to every ward with a complimentary pint of ale (apparently full of iron so seen to be a good thing for women who had just given birth) and a cigar for the husbands....

WellieMum Sun 06-Feb-05 22:36:17


Sorry, have been wanting to reply for ages but we've had computer dramas, grrr.

Depressing to see how widespread the advertising thing is - it's not surprising, but how short sighted of govts/health authorities to allow big companies to influence child health policy.

bobbybob at the weaning vid showing how horribly difficult it is to puree food. When I read your post I had a "eureka" moment! I had been puzzled at the way I was being harrassed into attending the weaning education session. I said cheerily that I was happy that I knew the theory, and would learn the practicalities like everyone else, ie by actually doing it, but the nurse just glared at me and sat with pen poised over the appointment diary. dd was THREE AND A HALF MONTHS OLD at the time I've since refused outright to go and am now no doubt blacklisted as a Bad Mummy. I couldn't figure out why it seemed so important!

Am afraid these days to walk past the Plunket clinic in case they are hiding behind the gateposts, waiting to clonk me on the head, drag me inside, and (as I now realise) forcibly show me the Watties video so they can claim their funding.

Can just imagine toilet training sponsored by Huggies, ie "Do NOT attempt to potty train before the age of, oooh, six or seven at least...."

I have far too much on my plate to campaign properly about this, but am keen to write a couple of letters at least. Thanks bobbybob for the info - you're obviously much more clued up than I am!

Will let this thread sink gently downwards again, but will report back if I get any response from my rants!

Branster Sun 06-Feb-05 22:41:24

I don't think you're overreacting, after all if you are genuinely concerned about something you should take it further to be at peace with yourself.
But do you seriously think that people make decisions purely on the basis of reading leaflets and advertising?

tillykins Sun 06-Feb-05 22:43:55

\link{ milk action}
both campaign against these sort of actions - I think there are various laws and legislation from WHO et al which prohibits the marketing of anything that undermines breastfeeding, at under 6months, so sponsorship or not, they are not allowed to do it
Contact IBFAN (International Babyfood Action Network) and complain - they will do all the rest!

tillykins Sun 06-Feb-05 22:44:42

Baby Milk Action try again!

Caligula Sun 06-Feb-05 22:45:42

What about writing to a mother and baby magazine?

(Or are they all dependent on Plunket's advertising as well?

moondog Sun 06-Feb-05 22:49:41

No!! Complain!! That's how things get done! I was very angry recently when our professional body collaborated with a big supermarket on some health issue (won't say what) and at the bottom of the (very well put together) pack, was a huge advert for SMA!!!
I harangued the head of said professional body (bit embarassing actually. Computer got a virus and went berserk so she got the same e mail about 30 times a day for a week!!! Probably be struck off.)

I am a b/feeding perer supporter and during our training we discussed this at length. Out excellent hvs and midwives say they are constantly having to remove/veto/destroy calendars,pens,posters etc because of this sort of thing.
Completely agree with your point.Well informed people can sift through info and make confident choices unlike less lucky people.
An example;
m/w told me that she realised how insidious this form of advertising was with one episode. She was doing a home visit with a mother who was telling her of her decision to use formula,and she cited SMA. Then she stopped and said 'Oh but shouldn't say that should I as you're with the others.' M/w was mystified until she looked down and saw that she was using a Cow&Gate pen. That she says galvanised her into action.

Problem is, so little money for health promotion is available within NHS so they use this stuff.
I'm surprised at NZ-thought you and Oz were miles better than the uK on this sort of stuff.

NB If you haven't already, read 'The Politics of B/feeding' by Gabrielle Palmer for a big discussion on this.
It's one of my top 10 influential tomes.

Caligula Sun 06-Feb-05 22:51:47

LOL Moondog at the thought of this poor woman being bombarded by your e-mails - must have felt like I do about Flylady!

moondog Sun 06-Feb-05 22:59:14

I know...cringe.
She wrote me a very stiff and curt missive saying something like 'Point taken, now will you please leave me alone?'
I'm wincing now.
What's this about you and Flylady? An MN thing?!

bobbybob Sun 06-Feb-05 23:08:03

Great news - well a start anyway.

I looked at the Baby Food in the supermarket and half of it has new style labels that say

Any age from 6 months!

Okay so the ANY AGE bit is massive and the 6 months bit is tiny, so that requires a letter to the commerce commission because it is potentially going to be a disaster if somebody feeds their 2 week old egg custard.

So if you are going to complain then perhaps the thrust of your letter could be suggesting

1) Size Relationship of words ANY AGE and from 6 months and potential for death of child - not good PR for Watties.
2) Updating Plunket video as it now showing old products, which can't be good good for sales.

But at least this means they are changing for the better. Now I can apply myself to getting the vegemite and baby rice taken out of the 4 month Bounty Pack.

moondog Sun 06-Feb-05 23:12:18

I was really looking forward to sniffily refusing the Bounty bag when I had ds seven months ago ('Thank you but no,I hve no need for stinking unguents,earth poisoning nappies and other such nonsense'). Guess what? They never even offered me one!
(Must have heard that eco warrior/earth mother Moondog was in the building and steered clear!)

eidsvold Mon 07-Feb-05 06:22:05

re formula: first stage formula milk is often on special here in Australia.

We too get our bounty packs - ( got one when dd was born recently) with a variety of things in - not so much of the J and J - lots more organic/natural shampoos etc and things like aqueous cream etc for sensitive skin....

I just packed them away and intend to use them when we go away...

Lots of good info though and lots of catalogues etc.. probably less products more info than the bounty and jj ones I got in the UK

moondog Mon 07-Feb-05 08:33:10

Eidsvold,I have Australian friends here in the UK who are really shocked to see formula ads in parenting magazines, so am surprised at what you say. Thought there would be strict legislation against the sort of thing you mention.

In my childhood in PNG a brilliant band of Australiam women formed 'Susu Mama' (Mothers' Milk) a pressure group that successfully sent the formula companies packing.
Bottles were only available on prescription there and the infant mortality rates dropped dramatically as a result.

bobbybob Tue 08-Feb-05 08:38:12

I found a Plunket questionnaire in the rooms, so I used it to complain. I gave my name and address so we will see what they say.

Bozza Tue 08-Feb-05 08:50:55

Have to say thats its annoying this insidious advertising - and the combination of all this unnecessary adverts/samples with useful/necessary items such as the child benefit forms. Because DD was born at home I didn't get a bounty pack but that meant that I had to go chasing the DSS to get a form to apply for child benefit.

Anyway thats my own personal winge - but WellieMum I think your opinions and concerns are totally valid and that you should follow it up.

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