Sunday, October 05, 2008

It's Nestle Free Week!

Nestlé-Free Zone

Today on our way home from my sister's house, Lacy said to us, "Do you know what kills babies?"

"What?" we asked.


What an appropriate comment at the start of Nestle-free week.

I've been actively boycotting Nestle for probably about two years now, but have been boycotting by choosing other brands (but not necessarily doing the research to find out what brands they own) since Lacy was born over four years ago, when I first learned of the Nestle controversy.

Why Boycott Nestle?

The promotion of infant formula over breastfeeding has caused many needless deaths, mostly in 3rd world countries, but also in developed countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) is well aware of how infant formula marketing can sway mothers to use formula instead of nature's perfect food, milk from the child's own mother. Because of that, the WHO has come out with "The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes," sometimes called the WHO code. This code restricts the way formula companies can market their products. Most countries have adopted this code (unfortunately the US has not), yet many formula companies violate it anyway. The most frequent violator of the code is Nestle.

History of the Nestle Boycott

In 1973, a booklet called The Baby Killer was published, outlining Nestle's unethical marketing tactics. This lead Nestle to sue a publisher of one of the translations of the booklet. This was the German translation, whose title was translated to Nestle Kills Babies. After a two year legal battle, the judge found that Nestle couldn't be held criminally liable for the deaths of all the infants, but only won its case against the title of the translation. The judge commented that Nestle needed to fundamentally change its marketing tactics and only fined the publisher 300 Swiss Franks. TIME magazine said it was a "moral victory" for the publisher.

With all this information coming to light about Nestle, the boycott began. In 1981, the WHO code was issued. In 1984, boycott organizers met with Nestle, who agreed to abide by the terms of the code, and the boycott was officially suspended.

However, in 1988, IBFAN learned that Nestle had not kept their part of the bargain-- they were still providing massive amounts of free and low-cost infant formula and supplies to hospitals in third world countries. This lead to a relaunch of the original boycott, and is still going on today.

But Isn't Formula Healthy and Sometimes Necessary?

Yes and no. At times, formula is a life-saving substance and we should be grateful that we have access to this. Especially for infants with metabolic disorders who would otherwise not be able to survive, even with donor milk. These babies are quite rare, and some are able to have breast milk in limited amounts, and must have metabolic formula as their main food source.

In this day and age, many women are leery of having another mother nurse their infant, or even provide donated milk (which can be screened for diseases, and pasteurized, which sterilizes the milk but also kills the living cells and antibodies found in milk). Other women are just grossed out by the idea of using another woman's breast milk. Still others do not have an affordable and trustworthy source of milk for their infants, and are unable to provide a full supply of breast milk on their own. For these women, formula is the best answer for a limited supply (or non-supply) of breast milk.

For other women, using formula means playing roulette with different formulas to find the brand that works with their child. Some children are extremely sensitive and must have very expensive predigested formulas. Other children are more gassy or fussy with certain brands.

And of course there are the health issues related to using formula. That was my biggest motivation to provide breast milk at any cost to my children. Using formula increases the incidences of asthma, allergies, adult-onset diabetes, GI tract problems, ear infections, and a host of other problems, some of which don't show up until adulthood. Some of the findings are controversial, but most results have been repeated again and again in studies.

And the biggest risk is making the formula correctly. Here are the major issues with marketing to the poor or mothers in third world countries:

1. Initially the formula is given away free, long enough for the milk supply to dry up. Once the milk is gone, the mothers have no choice but to use formula. Sometimes poor mothers will use less formula powder than is advised because they cannot afford to give them full-strength formula. This often leads to malnutrition.

2. Some mothers don't have access to safe water supplies and must mix formula bottles with unsanitary water. Because infants are more vulnerable, they are more likely to get sick from contaminated water than an older child or adult. UNICEF estimates that infants living in areas where contaminated water and disease are prevalent are up to 25 times more likely to die from diarrhea and four times more likely to die from pneumonia than breastfed infants.

3. There are some nutrients found in breast milk that science has not been able to replicate. New components of breast milk are being found every day, so it's unclear how many new components remain to be found, if they ever can be found.

4. Many mothers in developing countries are not fully aware of how to clean their child's bottles. In some cases, mothers may be aware but may not have the means to properly sanitize the bottles.

Nestle has exploited these mothers by going in to developing countries and insisting that formula is not only just as good, but better than mother's milk. Because of that, innocent babies die every day. According to the WHO, 1.5 million babies die every year because they are not adequately breastfed.

Doesn't Restricting Marketing Restrict Capitalism? That's Against the American Way!

Well, sure. But when you are protecting the most innocent of the world's population, isn't it worth it? There are a handful of things in this world that I think there should be major restrictions on advertising, and formula is one of them, along with prescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and male enhancement products, which does include some non-prescription supplements (side note: how is it legal to advertise these things during the early evening? Sure, I'll explain the birds and the bees to my child someday, but I think age 4 is a little young).

I've never understood formula advertising. The vast majority of mothers know it is there for them if they need it. If they don't know about it, there are public health nurses, physicians, and others who can help the mother choose a formula if that is what is needed for her child. Advertising dollars (which include the free cans of formula handed out at hospitals, doctor's offices, or your doorstep, and the coupons they send to you every month, in addition to television and print advertising) increase the cost of formula for everyone, making formula more expensive for those who need it.

So, taking in to consideration that formula companies spend money on print and TV advertising, marketing directly to physicians and hospitals via drug reps, direct marketing to mothers via free samples and coupons in the mail, and WIC rebates (which amount to 95% of the cost of the formula-- The Formula Company will give WIC a $19 rebate on a $20 can of formula), really the ones footing the bill are the ones paying full price. Sure, it's the capitalistic society that we live in, but advertising formula only hurts families and especially infants, and should not be allowed.

I'd Like to Participate, but My Baby only tolerates Nestle Formula

Guess what? The Nestle boycott doesn't include Nestle formulas! Why? Because the organizers are aware that for some families, formula is unavoidable, and some babies are sensitive to many kinds of formula, and in some cases are only able to tolerate the Nestle brand. Or, the Nestle brand may be the only one available, or affordable, for some families. You can participate in the boycott without hurting your baby's health. Nestle is pretty sneaky-- many brands are owned by Nestle, and it can be a surprise as to what brands they own. Dave used to eat a lot of Hot Pockets. Then we got some bad ones, I called customer care, and the coupons I got to replace them came in a Nestle envelope. I never redeemed the coupons. Dave has found other junk food items that he loves that aren't Nestle brand to replace his beloved Hot Pockets. He hasn't complained about no Hot Pockets since I stopped buying them, which was almost four years ago. To help you out, here's a comprehensive list of Nestle products.

How Can I Get Involved?

By boycotting Nestle, you are sending them a message-- you will not support a company that hurts families. Be sure to sign the boycott petition, and then call them and let them know you are participating in the boycott, or you can send them a letter. Because of what they've done around the world to babies and their families, Nestle is one of the most boycotted brands in the world.

Please participate, at least for one week, in the Nestle boycott. Tell Nestle you won't tolerate them braking the International Code!


Les said...

Wow, that's quite a list. Now shopping is going to take twice as long. Good thing we mostly eat stuff from scratch. And Nestle doesn't sell too many "ingredients."

Carolyn said...

That's the beauty of cooking the way we do! It's so much easier to boycott!

As far as ingredients go... they do sell a lot of chocolate And I know we both love chocolate. And of course Carnation canned and dry milk. I was actually surprised to find that a box of cornmeal that I had was made by Nestle a few years ago. I have since switched to grinding my own, but on the rare occasion I can't find corn to grind, I buy another brand now.