Bill published to crack down on formula milk promotion

A new Bill has been published today (Tuesday) which will tackle the “excessive and misleading marketing techniques” deployed by infant formula milk companies.

The proposed law, which is due for second reading in Parliament later this week, has been welcomed by health professionals, parents and campaigning groups – including Unicef Baby Friendly.

The new legislation, drafted by Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, will:

– Introduce plain packaging for all formula milks;
– Establish a body, totally independent of industry, to test all products and verify the claims of manufacturers prior to them being licensed for sale;
– Ban the use of misleading terms such as “follow-on” or “growing-up” formula milks;
– Stop companies from circumventing existing laws by introducing a ban on identical packaging for stage two and subsequent products;
– Prohibit formula companies from advertising in health journals and magazines;
– Bring forward tougher penalties for companies who flaunt the legislation, including greater financial fines and prison sentences for company CEOs;
– Ban advertising of formula milks on TV, social media, the internet and through parenting clubs.

Alison Thewliss MP – who chairs the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities – said:

“The Bill I have published today is a major step forward in tackling the excessive and misleading marketing techniques deployed by formula milk companies.

“For too long, these enormously powerful multi-nationals have been pushing the boundaries and circumventing existing legislation to relentlessly promote their products to parents and families. The more we see new aggressive marketing techniques, the more we see ever higher prices for formula milk, which is borne by the consumer.

“I absolutely understand and respect that some families will choose to use formula milk; this is absolutely not about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. I want to make sure parents are protected from misleading advertising and can access impartial, trusted information when making feeding decisions for their children. The consultation I carried out demonstrated that many parents are making decisions based on marketing alone, which is deeply worrying.

“There have been examples of products being recalled or discontinued after they make it to the shelves, for example for being found to have excessive protein. Other concerns include the introduction of prebiotics, which may not be necessary. Without an independent agency to test these products and verify the claims being made by companies, we have a situation of self-policing which simply isn’t working.

“Under the current arrangement, formula companies are also banned from advertising formula milks for new babies but they simply get around this by branding their products almost identically, with packaging showing stages 1, 2, 3. “Follow-on” or “growing up” milks look the same as their baby milks, so parents are led to assume there is a progression. The reality is that there is generally no need for formula after the age of one. This loophole is costing families dear, with most formulas costing around £10 per packet.

“For too long, formula companies have been running roughshod over the 2007 legislation which is no longer fit for purpose. In addition, the consumer has been picking up the cost for an ever increasing marketing war – this Bill will go some way to ending this and ensuring that parents are free from commercial influence and pressure when making choices about how they feed their children”.

5 thoughts on “Bill published to crack down on formula milk promotion

  1. Congratulations! This is a wonderful initiative which should help to protect the health of the nation’s babies by limiting the way that breastmilk substitutes are over-marketed to their parents.

  2. This is a powerful support for all families, however they feed their babies. Formula feeding parents need information – not hype – to help them choose and prepare milk as safely as possible. Breastfeeding families need freedom from commercial pressures to bottle feed if they have chosen not to. Nobody needs pictures of cuddly bears, hearts, shields etc on formula labels. If formula was less expensively promoted, it could be cheaper. Why should families pay for all the hype, when all they need is milk?

  3. This is such an important initiative, especially in this post-truth world. Families are vulnerable to predatory marketing claims and it is time for governments to curb these harmful practices. Thank you, Alison Thewliss, for working to support families to make infant feeding decisions free from inappropriate influence and pressure. I look forward to a parallel effort by our own government here in Canada.

  4. This is a great proposal. But people in the main do not yet understand the way formula marketing actually restricts choice, damages health and undermines breastfeeding, which is socially and culturally fragile in the uk.

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