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Why advertising formula milk is illegal and why what Milupa is doing is wrong

118 replies

mears · 24/08/2005 09:44

I thought it might be a good idea to explain why the promotion of 'breast milk substitutes' is such a problem as many mumsnetters believe it is an attack on bottle feeding mums. It is not.

this site has loads of info which explains it better than me

Also have a read at Tiktok's posts of explanation.

One of the best things to have happened since advertising was banned is that all information about bottle feeding comes from the dietitians in our hospital. It is factual advice that is given. Not claims of milk being the closest thing to breast milk ever.

We no longer have breastfeeding information leaflets that are produced by formula companies being given to women. The language was negative and the pictures were of poorly positioned babies with miserable looking mums.

We als stopped giving breast feeding women home free tins of baby milk powder "just in case" they did not have enough milk.

All this undermined the woman who chose to breastfeed before she got out the door.

There is absolutely no problem with women choosing to bottle feed when they make informed decisions.

I will post my other link on this thread too about 'guilt' and the role of advertising.
Please research this topic thoroughly before just deciding that this is just business and mumsnet needs the money.

I urge mumsnet to seek other means of revenue.

OP posts:
bosscat · 24/08/2005 19:13

Oh I just remembered I hear Fiona Phillips off GMTV say once that she felt bombarded by bottle feeders and formula milk and really pressured to use it. When quesionned why she said "when I walk into the supermarket its just there all over the shelves".

Come on, isn't that bollocks? I mean, I see cigarettes too but I don't buy them. I think her attitude is infantilising women, (if that's even a word) we aren't children, she's perfectly capable of walking on by and making her own mind up.

monkeytrousers · 24/08/2005 19:24

For many reasons I don't think many women make and informed choice when it comes to formula or breast milk, they crisis manage (like we all do to some extent) and fall back on what is historically seen as the ?easy? option, formula.. The biggest determining factor is still class, with more working class women choosing formula and more middle class women choosing breastfeeding. There are immense pressures on women firstly from their family and peer group, then their availability to medical services, then their personal circumstances. If you're poor and pressured to go back to work, then breastfeeding is even more difficult and time consuming. There's a whole culture here that formula companies exploit precisely because these women in reality have no choice.

tigermoth · 24/08/2005 19:53

sorry, haven't read the latest posts on this, but have been lurking on the topic generally - couldn't post as keyboard broke!
Anyway don't know if this is repeating stuff but just picking up a few points.

really sorry to see mears, tiktok and others wanting to leave - really reasoned posts from them and I can see why they personally and professionally feel as they do.

regarding advertising not being a reliable source of impartial information - yes, I can see that, but IMO what is?

How do you know any piece of seemingly informative text is just that, he truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth? The writer may not have researched thoroughly, may not have been given all the facts to
begin with. Does any text that takes you through a complex and emotive subject like breast or bottle feeding contain ALL available facts and
research, all checked, all constantly updated - that's a tall order.

The Milupa site fails at being impartial, but could any single breasfeeding/bottlefeeding site succeed 100%?

The Miloupa advice line offering biased advice to vulnerable callers - that's what I really object to. I don't like the the Aptimal advertorial on the homepage, especially in the editorial section. Also I hate the way
Aptimil have echoed mumsnet words - a network of mums. I thought that was us!

BUT the Milupa advertorial IMO loses its power if put in context with other b/f information on the home page. If the Milupa advice line has to stay, then numbers for non profit making breastfeeding charities/NCT should be there too IMO.

As others have said, I think the Milupa advert should be in a banner format along with the charity ads, so it does not look like editorial. If it has to remain as editorial, could the text be amended? ( at a guess, I'd imagine that text went backwards and forwards a few times between mumsnet and milupa - I could be wrong): IMO the 'network of mums' is a very confusing phrase, echoing what mumsnet stands for and bringing mumsnet down.

Could there be a disclaimer from mumsnet, in essence saying mumsnet does not endorse any of the sentiments of the many advertisers here
(including charities). So mumsnet keeps it's neutral stance. And then a plug for mumsnet talk - saying there are over number of discussions on breast and bottle feediing in our talk section. And then put a grat big link to that!

Are Milupa paying to have exclusive rights to breastfeeding advice on the home page? I sincerely hope this is not part of the deal. I hope they will continue to pay mumset if breastfeeding charity ads are displayed
alongside. If not then really, Milupa is a no go advertiser for me.

I am practical Mumsnet needs money. I can't imagine the subs alone covering costs. Incidently, I don't think that list of payers is
accurate, so please don't judge people on that. I paid my overdue yearly sub in the spring and my name isn't on the list.

Also, on the judgemental theme, how would you feel if mumsnet started banning the content of talk? Sometimes I spend a day chatting on talk
about totally non parenting subjects. I don't post messages of parenting advice or sympathy or
review parent orientated products..
shoult the mumsnet complain if they see someone just chatting, not adding their 'parenting wisdom' to the site. Sometimes I click on acitve conversations and have to scroll down lots of threads to see any that are primarily about parenting issues.

wordsmith · 24/08/2005 20:40

"My DS was as a result bottlefed, not so bad some would say, except that he was intolerant to dairy and got glue ear, speech deficiencies, etc etc etc as a result."

How do you know it was as a result of ff? The only baby I know who was truly dairy intolerant was exclusively bfed for 6 months.

And where are all these HVs who push you all to ffeed? Mine would only talk about it when pushed by me, and even then looked around the room and whispered. Honestly.

soapbox · 24/08/2005 20:48

Because when I put him on a total dairy exclusion diet his glue ear cleared up immediately!

Pretty clear to me what was causing it!

Are you insinuating that we are all making up our HV's pushing of formula - or is it just that you think your one experience counters all of the others???

snafu · 24/08/2005 20:57

Wordsmith, believe me, I am not making it up and am a wee bit pissed off that you would imply that. Your experience was your experience, mine was mine. Both equally valid.

bonkerz · 24/08/2005 21:02

Just like to add after catching up with the thread that when i breast fed my ds i had cracked nipples and visited the midwife led unit at the hospital, they took my ds off me and fed him a cottle of formula milk, no questions asked and also gave me 4 bottles to take home till i could get to the shop! So its not just advice lines that give the advice to use formula but also midwives!!!

monkeytrousers · 24/08/2005 22:01

My dp thinks Milupa are "scumbags" for doing this. He's as blunt and charming as Jose Morino

Gizmo · 25/08/2005 00:44

Interesting debate plus insomnia is a terrible combination, and I know I'm going to regret posting this in the morning, but this is going around and around my head, so better to get it on screen, I think.

Point 1) in countries with unreliable water supplies, formula kills babies. I have no problems with the WHO's guidelines re promotion of formula in those countries
Point 2) For the overwhelming majority of babies, breastfeeding is the absolute optimum mode of nourishment.
Point 3) In the UK, for the overwhelming majority of babies, formula feeding is a safe and adequate alternative to breastfeeding.

So, we are looking at a debate between the best and adequate and how to promote the best, I think. And I must say, I have deep reservations about banning advertising in an attempt to promote the best.

It's analogous to many public health issues. The optimum for the general public would be to eat five portions of fruit & veg a day and cycle or walk to work. Does the government ban takeaway advertising or advertising any food with more than 20% fat in it? Does it ban the advertising of cars, buses, trains? No, it attempts to promote healthier eating and more exercise. Now, why is it doing that, when, you might say, it is having limited success?

Firstly I guess that is because the government takes the view that we are adults who are making the best choices we can and, just as importantly, those businesses that are providing fatty food/cars/transport etc have a right to promote their goods and a right to make money and provide employment.

Secondly, I think it may be because banning direct advertising is not as effective as promoting the alternatives. For example, in this case, you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to be aware that formula feeding is the alternative to breastfeeding. You don't actually need to advertise to make that point.

(As an aside, to those who ask, well, why do formula companies want to advertise, then? My guess is that formula advertising is largely designed to win market share amongst the competing brands, as much as enlarge the market by persuading women to abandon breastfeeding.)

Anyway, the point is that in fact women are perfectly well aware that formula exists and therefore banning advertising is a pyrrhic victory. It actually makes sod all difference in real terms. It would be immensely more effective if the government were to get it's b*dy act together and PROMOTE breastfeeding properly, with properly trained counsellors available in hospital and with health visitors. Now, if perhaps there could be some direct tax on formula producers (and their advertising) to fund such a scheme, then we'd have a win-win situation all round.

Oh, and just to go on the record (and undermine the careful logic of the above ), I think the Aptamil tie-in stinks, largely because it is a big fat lie that directly undermines people who want to breastfeed. I hope Mumsnet considers carefully before renewing their contract - I would have much less of a problem with a straightforward ad that said 'Our product is much better than SMA' for example.

Gizmo · 25/08/2005 07:09

And furthermore, even if banning advertising is justified in this case, allowing it in professional publications is a spectacular own goal, I think. For a start, it assumes that people with a professional qualification are in some way immune to advertising in a way that we, the sweet innocent public, are not, which I find very patronising.

In addition, it means that when many people are introduced to formula, it is through people in the health care system, and therefore it carries with it a stamp of professional approval. You have to be very strong minded and determined to resist that as a new mother.

At least with an advertisement aimed directly at you, most people understand that the basic agenda is to flog you something, and take it with a pinch of salt. When someone who is supposedly objective is trying to flog you something, you've got no chance.

WideWebWitch · 25/08/2005 07:12

Gizmo, I disagree with your point about why the govt doesn't ban advertising unhealthy foods, imo it's because the food companies are large powerful organisations who employ armies of people (lobbyists etc) to make sure it doesn't happen. Business that doesn't want regulation is a force to be reckoned with. Look at how long it's taken to get smoking even partly banned! No time now but may come back to this later.

wordsmith · 25/08/2005 08:22

Snafu, I'm not implying that you made it up, I was just asking how you knew for sure. That's all.

And you're right, this is what I've been saying all along, everyone's experience is equally valid so why try and deny the propogation of information which you, in your experience, diagree with? Other people may wish to receive this information. And as for totally unbiased info regarding bfing and ffing - show me some!

monkeytrousers · 25/08/2005 08:27

I think also corporations have almost unlimited resourses to market their wares too. Being publicly funded, any government counter campain couldn't compete.

You're right baout it wanting to increase it's market share but it's all a strategy to increase it's sales over the board. The company has a duty to increase it's share value for it's shareholders and it can only do that by expanding it's market.

Gizmo · 25/08/2005 11:04

Wickedwaterwitch, I know you are right when you say there are plenty of funds in the food industry to lobby government (I guess you've seen Supersize Me, too, eh?).

But my point is that the lobbyists could be pushing at an open door in the case of advertising, where the government is unwilling to support a ban because a) it would probably be ineffective (particularly when compared to a similar amount of effort spent on promoting the alternative) and b) there are real libertarian issues involved in banning advertising.

Let's unpack the first argument. Advertising can have a number of different goals: to raise awareness of the product class (useful if you're launching something new like an iPod, for example). It can make your version of the product appear superior to the competition (by emphasising the features you believe appeal to your core audience). It can stimulate a shortlived desire to purchase when you are standing in front of the product (for products that are impulse buys). It can make people buy more of the same product (advertising a special offer).

In the case of food advertising, you have to think about what the market actually is. Food is a very inelastic good, meaning that people are largely price insensitive (this is, of course an economist's generalisation:I'm well aware that some people are very price sensitive with food). So if people chose to spend more on cream cakes, they don't generally buy less salad. They just spend more overall. There is an exception to this when you are considering goods that can be close substitutes for each other - then you find that if people buy more of substitute A, they will tend to buy less of substitute B.

Therefore, most food companies are not trying to promote their class of products against totally different sorts of food, rather they are trying to influence people to choose their products against others in the same class. Cream cake manufacturers, for example, don't waste their money trying to inform the general public that cream cakes exist and are deliciously creamy, much nicer than salad. Generally what they are trying to achieve is to persuade shoppers that when they want a sweet, fatty treat, they should be choosing a cream cake over a doughnut. All that banning all advertising of sweet, fatty treats achieves is that consumers rely on other information such as in-store promotions, word of mouth, or pricing competition to help them make their decision of what sort of sweet fatty treat to buy.

If the goal is to make sure that consumers eat more fruit and vegetables, then actually what it needs is aggressive promotion of the benefits of that whole class of products against the fatty food classes. Ironically, it needs advertising, along with a full scale education and public opinion forming exercise. But the advertising it needs is of a totally different type to that that the food industry uses.

Looking at the libertarian arguments is, of course, very controversial, but just to put one example across: would you chose to ban a small bespoke cheese maker from advertising their products for christmas presents, because they are 'high fat'?

Anyway, sorry for the massive rant, but I do find the question of where we draw the line between personal responsibility and blaming other organisation's attempts to influence us to be a very interesting one.

snafu · 25/08/2005 11:21

How I knew what for sure, wordsmith? It wasn't my baby that was ill, if that's what you meant, it was soapbox's.

And (for about the gazillionth time) I have no problem with the dissemination of information about formula to those who require it. I have no problem with formula feeding when it is an informed choice. I am not trying to 'deny the propagation of information'.

My sole point in posting about my experience was to show the astonishing speed at which formula feeding was suggested as the obvious choice for a mother who had been quite clear in her commitment to bf'ing and had no particular problems bf'ing, but who had just happened to mention to her HV that she was - shock, horror - a little bit knackered. It is this undermining, confidence-sapping attitude - from an otherwise sympathetic health professional - of 'Hey, don't bother about that annoying breastfeeding lark, give him a bottle and give yourself a rest. Aptamil is virtually the same as breastmilk anyway, so don't worry' that is fostered by ads such as these.

In my opinion

Gizmo · 25/08/2005 11:39

Gosh, that should be 'blaming other organisations' attempts to influence us'

I shall be drummed out of proof reading class for that

wordsmith · 25/08/2005 11:57

Sorry Snafu, gots posts confused.

milkymouth · 25/08/2005 13:51


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