Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Unicef, WHO Back Philippines’ Milk Code

Officials of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organization (WHO) denounced on Monday attempts by international pharmaceutical firms to stop the implementation of the Milk Code of the Philippines that would regulate infant formula advertising and promote breastfeeding.

“There is great concern in the international community over what is happening in the Philippines at the moment,” David Clark, Unicef legal expert on milk code enforcement, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on Tuesday oral arguments on the Milk Code, which was temporarily held in abeyance upon the pleading of milk companies represented by the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines.

The code bans advertisements for breast milk substitutes intended for infants and children up to two years old. Milk companies argued that the code curtailed international trade and marketing agreements.

The United States Chamber of Commerce has asked the Department of Trade and Industry to reexamine the Milk Code and its impact on trade, investment, employment and other commercial activities.

“The blockage of the implementation of the code sends a negative message to other countries around the world that are trying to protect infant health and survival through strong national legislation,” said Clark.

The Department of Health wants the temporary restraining order lifted, saying the Milk Code was intended to arrest the decline in breastfeeding.

At a press conference, Clark said the milk companies were “picking on” the Philippines when it came to the Milk Code because of the big market for their products here. He noted that the amount spent for advertising infant formula in the Philippines was twice that spent in the United States.

The Unicef officer also said the milk companies’ “seductive” advertising lured parents into abandoning breastfeeding in favor of infant formula.

The DoH said the milk ads promoted false claims, like when they said their products made children more intelligent.

“Why are these companies picking on the Philippines? Why are they choosing to put corporate profits before infant survival?” he said.

Clark also contested claims that the Milk Code would hamper trade with multinational companies. He pointed out that the Milk Code would only regulate the marketing of infant formula and not trade and manufacture, and added that the code would be applied in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Clark warned that “powdered infant formula is not a sterile product and may contain harmful bacteria. The government of the Philippines should be applauded for attempting to protect the health and survival of Filipino infants in this way.”

WHO medical officer Howard Sobel, for his part, noted that 10,000 deaths could have been avoided if infants had been exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life. Formula-fed infants are 14 times more likely to die from diarrhea, according to Sobel.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 18, 2007
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