Bayer's practice in promoting Novalac in medical journals in Australia was highlighted in IBFAN´s global monitoring report, Breaking the Rules Stretching the Rules 2007, see:

Manila Standard, August 22, 2006

Ban milk formula ads

Abbott, Astra-Zeneca, Bayer Philippines, Novartis sued Philippine government to stop its absolute ban on promotion and advertisement of breast milk substitutes

EXECUTIVE Order 51, or the Milk Code, aimed at promoting breast milk and breastfeeding, took effect during the term of President Corazon Aquino. In May 15, 2006, the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of Executive Order 51 were approved by the National Executive Committee of the Department of Health. Under Section 11 of Rule V, advertising and marketing of breast milk substitutes for children up to two years were totally banned "because they tend to convey or give subliminal messages... that exaggerate breast milk substitutes."

Well, hooray for the ban, especially for the reasoning behind it. I hope I contributed to it with my July 19, 2005 column on ads, milk formulas and picky eaters. Self-serving infant milk formula ads do like to convey the message that they will make our kids more intelligent and, worse, that they are substitutes for natural food and teaching our kids to eat properly. I especially abhor the latest Lactum ad with two toddlers who refuse to eat, only to be followed by an image of a table with nutritious food that is wiped clean by Lactum. I can't remember which milk ad it was but I also abhor the one where a child skips a step on a ladder implying he can get accelerated in school because the milk in the ad will make him more intelligent than his peers. And I saw still another one a few days ago where a toddler managed to climb up a slide-yes, climb up-to help a younger child who slid down in his arms.

You see ads like that and you get a clear picture of what the Revised Rules mean when they say these ads give subliminal messages that exaggerate the values of milk formulas. And until manufacturers and advertisers alike can reorient themselves on the meaning of "truth in advertising" in the best interests of our children, a total ban cannot be interpreted as unreasonable. We can even view the ban as a move to protect children in two ways-from callous profiteers and from the gullibility, ignorance and negligence of kids' own parents.

I hardly found it surprising that milk manufacturers sued and were able to get a temporary restraining order. According to a report in All Headline News (, the petitioners include Abbott Laboratories, Wyeth Philippines, Mead Johnson, Astra-Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, Bayer Philippines, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Mercury Drug. They allege that the Revised Rules (illegally) expanded the scope of EO 51 and prohibited the free flow of information on infant milk formulas. While the alleged illegal expansion of the scope of EO 51 is something for the government lawyers to debunk (let them earn their salaries), I would like to respond to the claim that the ban prohibits the free flow of information on milk formulas.

Let's start with the most basic. My dictionary defines "information" as knowledge derived from study, experience or instruction. In short, information is akin to truth. It has an antonym, misinformation, which refers to incorrect information.

Are milk formula ads a source of information or misinformation? While every milk formula ad contains a notification that "breast milk is still best for babies," how effective is it when pitted against the barrage of purported benefits of the milk formula that include the maximum brain development of the child (superior intelligence), the development of better motor skills (physical prowess) and, as ridiculous as it may seem, emotional contentment (happiness).

Any competent child psychologist can tell you that intelligence is the result of a combination of several factors (note the word "competent"-I do not consider as competent any medical practitioner who promotes milk formulas because he anticipates rewards and incentives from the milk manufacturer). Nutrition is a part of the equation, yes, but so are 1) a good combination or aural, visual and tactile stimulation and 2) the ability of a child to develop a thirst for knowledge which, in turn, is affected by at least two factors-an encouraging attitude by the parents or whoever it is charged with taking care of the child on a day-to-day basis, and access to materials, activities and information that do, in fact, stimulate learning rather than stunt intellectual and emotional growth.

The way many milk formula ads are presented, the message relayed is that intelligence is all a matter of feeding the child with milk that has the correct (sic) chemical combination for stimulating and developing the brain. Over and beyond the blatant lie that such ads propagate, they also relay the message that it is alright for parents to be lazy because milk formulas make up for their laziness. The necessary stimulation, the words of encouragement, the hours spent playing to discover new things... all these the parents can provide at their convenience. The important thing is that Yaya gives Baby his bottle of milk formula at regular intervals.

What about the message that milk formulas make a child physically strong-his locomotor skills so developed that he can outrun and outclimb his peers? The physical development of a child has many facets. It includes the development of his teeth and his digestive system. But what do milk ads tell us? Let's go back to the Lactum ad where two toddlers toy with their food and give their mother all kinds of smart-alecky reasons why they wouldn't eat. The mother then gives them their Lactum and the kiddies are full and happy.

What's wrong with the scenario? First of all, it tells us that there is nothing significant about teaching a child to chew and learn the different flavors and textures of food. Second, it doesn't tell us that gums and teeth do not develop properly unless the child learns to chew and eat. Third, it doesn't tell us that the development of the digestive system suffers when a child learns to eat nothing but liquids and semi-solids.

Of course, business means earning profits and businessmen will not volunteer information that will lessen the chances for successful sales and profits. But when milk manufacturers claim that the ban on milk ads prohibits the flow of information, I need to ask-what information? Based on the milk ads I see on TV everyday, it looks to me that milk manufacturers are more into the propagation of misinformation than genuine information.

Truth is, it is quite hypocritical to create an impression that our kids' health is the prime concern of milk formula manufacturers. It may be one of the concerns, I will concede that, but the driving force is profitability. Truth is, at the age of six months, milk should start to become a supplementary source of infant nutrition. At six months, kids are supposed to start learning to eat real food. Hence, when milk ads assure us that it is okay for kids older than two years to forego real food so long as they drink up their milk, they are lulling parents into a false sense of security. When they tell us that milk formulas are a sufficient substitute for real food, they lie to us.

Bottom line is that there is no ban on the sale of milk formulas. The ban is on the ads. The Revised Rules make no claim that milk formulas have no nutritional value. They only say that the ads mislead the public with their exaggerated claims and, as such, work to the detriment of the public.

Question is, why not simply reorient the ads instead of insisting on their present thrust? The milk manufacturers practically admit it. This refusal to insist on the current line of ads is an admission that milk formulas won't sell unless they are peppered with subliminal messages, half-lies and half-truths. Their successful sales are hinged on their freedom to blur the lines between information and misinformation in what they have been able to pass off so far as "truth in advertising."

Once and for all, self-regulation in advertising does not work. The milk formula ads prove that. (Connie Veneracion)

GMANews.TV (Philippines), 06/18/2007

DOH urges 5 lady justices to uphold Milk Code IRR

The Department of Health (DOH) expressed hopes Monday that the five women justices of the Supreme Court will uphold the revised implementing rules and regulations on the sale of breast milk substitutes in the country.

Health Undersecretary Alexander Padilla, in a press briefing, said health officials are very hopeful that the five women magistrates would "passionately and objectively" study the DOH's position on the Milk Code of 1986.

Padilla is referring to Associate Justices Consuelo Yñares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Minita Chico-Nazario.

"We are optimistic with the five women justices. The regulation we are trying to win is for the Filipino infant," he said.

The SC is set to hear Tuesday oral arguments on the revised implementing rules and regulations of the Milk Code which regulates the advertising and marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Lawyer David Clark, legal expert on milk code enforcement for the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), said Filipinos spend some P21.5 billion for infant formula thinking that it would make their children brighter and taller as claimed by baby milk companies in their advertisement.

Filipino families, even the poor, spend 30 percent of their income on infant formula, Clark said.

He said parents are not aware of the alleged "risks" of instant formulas because they were bombarded with "false claims and lies" of the baby milk companies.

The Unicef official reported that in the first half of 2006, baby milk companies spent P2.5 billion for advertising alone.

Developed 20 years after the approval of the Milk Code in 1986 with the assistance of the World Health Organization and Unicef, the RIRR also calls for heavier penalties for violations of Milk Code.

The Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) has secured a temporary restraining order on the RIRR to allegedly give them more time to research the implications of the state regulations.

Medical giants Abbot Laboratories, Wyeth Philippines, Mead Johnson, Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals, Bayer Philippines, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Mercury Drug corporation are among the members of PHAP.

Clark said these baby milk companies are mostly multinational companies who see the Philippines as a huge potential market for their products.

"Why are these companies challenging the Philippine government in its Milk Code regulations which it would not do in other countries. It is because Philippines is a huge potential market companies do not want to be interfered with," he said.

He noted that infant formula products are regulated in the United States.

The multinational companies, he said, want to sell to developing countries their products which are regulated in other countries.

He further said these companies are also challenging Milk Code regulations in India and Guatemala.

Padilla said a form of pressure being exerted by the companies were threats to cut trade relations with the country if the Health department would pursue with the RIRR.

He said the US Chamber of Commerce and Infant Formula Council of America have sent them a letter expressing their "concern" on the regulations.

He said a reply has been sent, however, telling the American chamber that that "this is not their concern."

US trade representatives also went to their office last year to talk to them about the matter.

Padilla said even the country's own Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had spoken with them on the concern of the companies.

The DOH, according to Padilla, insisted that the RIRR will not in anyway affect the trade relations of the two countries as it has nothing to do with actual sales but on the marketing.

"Trade cannot take precedence over health concerns. (DTI is) only concerned the business interest and investment," he said.

He added: "We hope the SC will take into consideration health matters over business."

He also said they could present a stronger case if the DTI is on their side.

Dr. Howard Sobel of the World Health Organization said babies fed with infant formula, being a cow's milk and unsterilized, have 10 times the risk of dying, 14 times to get diarrhea and four times to get pneumonia.

He added that 16,000 infant deaths can be prevented if the babies were exclusively breastfed for six months, mixed solid/semi-solid food and continued breastfeeding from six months up to two years.

Based on the 2003 study of Unicef, 27. 6 percent and 30.4 percent of Filipino aged five years and below were underweight and stunted, respectively, because of malnutrition while only 16.1 percent of children were exclusively breastfed up to four to five months.

Unicef noted that 19 percent of children in America were breastfed.

Padilla said these advertisements are not actual information but "pervert information to generate sales." - AMITA LEGASPI