Breaking the rules:
promoting artificial feeding in Canada

The normalizing of artificial feeding, the creation of trust in formula feeding and the belief in its equivalency to breastmilk all come through as key messages to pregnant women and new mothers. Through the multitude of free samples, mailings, booklets, baby clubs, magazines, TV promotions, internet pages, shelf talkers and yes even physicians' offices, mothers have become inescapable targets of the industry. Admittedly the artificial feeding industry has an uphill battle as it works hard to defend and promote a product that is nutritionally and immunologically inferior, for which scientific evidence has overwhelmingly demonstrated numerous risks to infant health, and which costs a lot of money as well. Clearly the industry has to work hard to seem convincing, as INFACT Canada's monitors noted.

The World Health Organization recognized two decades ago that unscrupulous marketing of formula put breastfeeding -- and babies -- at risk. In Canada, however, violations of the WHO Code are everyday occurrences. To quantify this problem, INFACT Canada trained ten monitors who looked for violations in Vancouver, B.C.; Toronto, Ont.; Saskatoon, Sask.; St. John's, Nfld.; and Granby, Que. From January to September, 2000, the monitors checked community clinics, doctors' offices, paediatric and general hospitals (including maternity units), stores, pharmacies and supermarkets. Local newspapers, Internet sites, and magazines were also monitored.


Join the Club With the Best



Join the Club. Shelf talkers picked up at supermarkets and drug stores throughout Canada offer free and low-cost baby supplies. The baby club membership information provides company access to families for the promotion of formula and 'nutritional information'.



INFACT Canada's monitoring report noted a decreased reliance on the health care system as a means to promote artificial feeding and an intensification of efforts to influence infant and young child feeding practices by targeting mothers and parents directly by all communication means at their disposal. Most striking is the increased use of data bases, collected through marketing surveys, the internet, product information telephone lines, maternity and department store coupons and promotions and baby club brochures, which then become the basis for age-targeted mailings of free samples and glossy subtle and not-so-subtle messages encased in related infant and young child development infomercials. 

Isomil shelf talker



Isomil shelf talker -- collected from an IDA Pharmacy in Ontario, claims the
endorsement of the medical profession.



INFACT Canada's full report will be available by the end of August. Here follows some examples from our report:

In a Newfoundland maternity facility, the booklet 40 Weeks to Motherhood was funded by Similac. Aimed at pregnant women -- it includes information on fetal development -- it is also filled with product ads and invites women to join the Similac Welcome Addition Club.

At a clinic in Ontario, a package called The Baby Comes First prepared by Similac and including a booklet, video and sample of formula was in the waiting room for parents.

A new strategy used by Carnation Good Start in advertisements announces that their formula is "specially designed to offer complete nutrition plus an extra measure of comfort." The whey proteins are re-named 'Comfort Proteins' and comfort is trade marked.


 Becoming a parent has its rewards baby bonus club



Becoming a parent has its rewards pamphlet
includes coupons from participating stores which offer discounted baby products -- including
infant formula. [Right & below]



Baby bonus club coupons




Code Article 4: Information and education

"...intended to reach pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children, should contain clear information on all of the following points:

  • the benefits and superiority of breastfeeding;
  • maternal nutrition, the preparation for and maintenance of breastfeeding;
  • the negative effect on breastfeeding of introducing partial bottle feeding;
  • the difficulty of reversing the decision not to breastfeed; and
  • where needed, the proper use of infant formula, the social and financial implications of its use, the health hazards of unnecessary and improper use."


Baby Steps & Enfalac


A Mead Johnson baby club -- Baby Steps, containing feeding information and a sample of Enfalac formula was sent to new mothers around the estimated time of delivery.



Sobey's supermarket in St. John's, Newfoundland, hosted extensive formula displays and gave free samples of formula to mothers.

Sampling companies such as Samplex include formula, bottles and pacifiers in packages designed to be bought inexpensively as gift packs for expectant or new mothers. These are sold at IDA, Zeller's and many others.

Samples of formula are mailed directly to the homes of pregnant women, with follow-up mailings every two months or so -- often because mothers have signed up for "Baby Clubs" such as the Good Start program (Nestlé), Baby Steps (Mead Johnson) or Welcome Baby (Abbott Ross). Some of these clubs are sponsored by stores such as Sears. Mothers may also sign up through ads in magazines like Today's Parent. 


Nestlé Good Start Program


Good Start -- a Nestlé gift pack sent to a first-time mother in Ontario, containing Alsoy formula (without a warning of the potential risks of soy) and product information.



"Linked sales" are a new strategy where products such as Pampers disposable diapers and baby toys come with information about formula. In another example, Pedialyte rehydration solution comes with a sample of Isomil formula and recommendation that babies with diarrhea be given a non-dairy milk.


Bonus Air Miles coupon


 Direct advertising and financial inducements
in the form of Bonus Air Miles and discounts on products are common throughout Canada.



Code Article 5: The general public and mothers

There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this code.

Manufacturers and distributors should not provide to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families, samples of products within the scope of this code.

There should be no point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples, or any device to induce sales -- special displays, discount coupons, premiums, special sales, loss-leaders and tie-in sales.

Marketing personnel should not seek direct or indirect contact with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.


Feeding Your Baby gift pack 

Feeding your Baby -- A hospital in Canada gave this gift pack to a new mother on discharge from maternity; it contained product information and three cans of Similac formula.



At the Albany Medical Clinic in Ontario, a table in the waiting room displayed formula samples and a booklet promoting Similac Advance formula. The baby change table in the same office had a similar display box with Isomil Soy Formula and included sample cans.

Hospitals continue to give "gift packs" with formula samples to new mothers when they are discharged with their babies.

Financial and other supports are given to health care professionals and institutions -- for example, Nestlé's Good Start program contributes to the Hospital for Sick Children, and conferences for health professionals are co-sponsored by Health Canada and formula companies.

 Nestlé's Baby Days magazine advertisment



Nestlé's Baby Days -- a television series
aired across Canada uses images and
language to promote formula feeding.



Code Article 6: The health care systems

No facility of a health care system should be used for the purpose of promoting infant formula or other products in the scope of this code.


For parents wanting advice on infant feeding, all formula companies offer toll-free access to the nurses and nutritionists employed for this purpose.

Nestlé employees at the Pickering Baby Expo in Ontario gave advice and free samples of formula to pregnant women and mothers of babies.


Nestlé Baby Cereal sample



Nestlé Baby Cereal depicting a young baby.





Code Article 8: Persons employed by manufacturers and distributors

Personnel employed in marketing products covered by the Code should not perform educational functions in relationship to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children.


Playtex bottles are advertised on the package as "better for baby ... most like mother."

Milupa cereals are marketed as being suitable for babies in four stages: #1 First solid feedings, #2 From first fruit feeding, #3 From about six months, #4 From about 12 months.

Heinz juices are sold in bottles with a picture of a baby on the front and a threaded neck so that feeding bottle tops and teats can be attached.

While Nestlé does not have a picture of a baby on the can, the full-page ads in parenting magazines show a large photo of a baby.


Heinz Rice Cereal




Heinz rice cereal labelled "Phase One" has a picture of a very young baby on the box. This implies the age of introduction at less than the recommended six months.



Code Article 9. Labelling

Labels should not have pictures of infants, nor pictures or text which may idealize the use of infant formula. The terms "humanized" or "maternalized" or similar terms should not be used. WHA Resolution 54.2 specifically mentions that health claims should not be used to idealize infant formulas.


Enfalac AR is a formula with added rice cereal, and promoted as a remedy for babies who spit up frequently. Such health claims are clearly misleading and violate article 9 of the Code.



Code Article 11: Implementation and monitoring


Independently of any other measures taken for the implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the aims and the principles of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them.
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