July 18th, 2007
Mayor of Ottawa accepts
On Saturday September 15th, 2007, Mr. Larry O’Brien, Mayor of Ottawa, is organizing a Food Drive in support of the Ottawa Food Bank’s ‘Baby Supply Cupboard.’ One of the major sponsors of this event is Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a large producer of infant formula.
The Food Bank’s ‘Baby Supply Cupboard’ targets one of the most vulnerable populations – infants and toddlers whose parents lack the resources to adequately provide for them. Through this program, expensive products such as formula and baby food are made available to families in need, without considering the long-term repercussions. Creating a dependence on infant formula and commercially available baby foods will become financially burdensome for these families when those items are no longer available at the food bank.
This call for infant formula donations undermines Health Canada’s recommendation that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding to two years of age and beyond. Breastmilk is always free, provides optimal nutrition and is especially important for low-income mothers and babies, who have the most to gain from breastfeeding.
INFACT Canada is very concerned that Mr. O’Brien has accepted sponsorship from Mead Johnson for this event. This provides Mead Johnson with the opportunity to market their products directly to some of the most vulnerable families. In order to support infant and young child health, this event should be promoting breastfeeding, the optimal infant feeding practice.
Please write a letter to the Mayor of Ottawa, voicing your objection to the Mead Johnson sponsorship and call for infant formula donations. Alter INFACT Canada’s letter (below) or write your own. In the past, mass action from INFACT’s members has been able to cancel similar sponsorships. Your letters will make a difference.
Send letters to:
To Mr. Larry O’Brien, Mayor - City of Ottawa
Dear Mayor O’Brien:
I am writing you to express my concern about the upcoming Food Drive in support of the Ottawa Food Bank’s ‘Baby Supply Cupboard.’ Although I am sure that the food drive is well intentioned, I am dismayed to see that the main sponsor of this event is Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a large producer of infant formula.
This is in direct contravention of the World Health Organization’s ‘Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes’ which states in Article 5: "There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code" (Article 5.1) and “Manufacturers and distributors should not provide, directly, or indirectly, to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, samples of products within the scope of this Code” (Article 5.2). Therefore, companies are banned from seeking contact with pregnant women and mothers and must not promote products covered by the Code to them or the general public in any way. Promotion is a broad term, which encompasses all means of encouraging the sale of a product. Advertising, direct mail, leaflets and pamphlets, posters, product samples, free gifts, video shows and lectures are all forms of promotion. Sponsorship of events, which provide publicity for infant formula, can also be considered a form of promotion.
Mothers who use Ottawa’s food banks should be provided with education and support to breastfeed their babies instead of being given infant formula. Breastmilk is always free, and provides optimal nutrition, especially for low-income mothers and babies, who have the most to gain from breastfeeding. Free samples of formula, such as those at food banks deter breastfeeding and are therefore not in the best interest of mothers and babies in need.
Infant formula use is a known health risk for both mothers and infants. With the rising rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, exclusive breastfeeding for six months provides a no-cost way to protect the health of infants and their mothers and reduce the risk of these chronic diseases. Infants who are not breastfed are also at increased risk of developing childhood cancer, asthma, ear and respiratory infections, allergies, and gastrointestinal infections. For the mother, not breastfeeding means a higher risk of breast, ovarian and other cancers. Providing disadvantaged mothers with formula, which they will come to depend on, does not support infant, young child and maternal health, nor is it a financially-viable way for these families to nourish their children.
I urge you, in the interest of infant and maternal health, to rescind the sponsorship of Mead Johnson Nutritionals and instead ask members of the public to donate wholesome foods to the food bank. Babies do not need any special foods other than their mothers’ own milk for six months, and family foods with continued breastfeeding to two years of age and beyond. To promote and support breastfeeding for all mothers in Ottawa, I also urge you to consider having the City of Ottawa follow the initiative of the City of Toronto’s Public Health Department, which is working towards the internationally recognized Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) designation.