October 16, 2009

Canadian doctor, newspaper sell out for Nestlé

Several of our members have drawn our attention to an article that appeared this past weekend in the Regina Leader-Post. You can view it by clicking here. The article came on the heels of World Breastfeeding Week, and marks a new low in covert formula marketing. Titled “Have a baby feeding backup plan”, the piece extolls the virtues of infant formula as a great way to overcome difficulties with breastfeeding. The supposedly unbiased article reads like an ad for Nestlé, hitting all of the formula industry’s main talking points including repeatedly mentioning that breastfeeding is difficult and not everyone can do it, advising that mothers have a tin of formula waiting at home before their baby is born, claiming that formula is as close as possible to breastmilk, and even recommending a specific Nestlé brand. Next to the online version of the article is a video ad in which a registered nurse discusses how to prepare formula.

The article quotes heavily from Dr. Susan Russell, an Ottawa-based physician. “So it's not your second night home from the hospital, and it's 3 o'clock in the morning,” Russell is quoted as saying, “and the baby is screaming, and you can't get him to latch on. And now what do you do?" Apparently instead of seeking breastfeeding support, you reach for a tin of formula. “Make sure you have formula in your house before you come home from the hospital with your new baby, Russell recommends.”

The Leader-Post has clearly violated journalistic standards, and Dr. Russell is failing to do what’s right for parents by giving them unbiased information about infant feeding.. Please write a letter to the editors. Write your own or adapt INFACT’s below.


Regina Leader-Post

I was shocked to read Irene Seiberling’s article “Have a baby feeding back up plan” in your newspaper this past weekend. The piece was full of misleading and biased information, and represents a serious breach of journalistic ethics on the part of the Leader-Post. Instead of presenting a balanced view of infant feeding issues, the article was completely one-sided and reiterated points pulled directly from advertisements for infant formula. Despite the fact that the World Health Organization says that almost all women are capable of breastfeeding, and their chances of success are even higher with proper breastfeeding support, Seiberling’s article uses scare tactics to convince mothers to buy formula even before their baby is born. If you don’t buy a tin of formula before you bring your baby home from the hospital, she warns, “you could find yourself running to the grocery store in a panic the second night you’re home with a new baby who’s starving and screaming.”

The article mentions breastfeeding problems on ten separate occasions, Not once is the fact mentioned that each year many mothers breastfeed successfully without problems, and many more are able to overcome breastfeeding difficulties with proper support. Such support is readily available in Canada from health professionals including pediatricians, lactation consultants, doulas, and midwives. But Seiberling recommends mothers bypass such options, and instead suggests that the best way to solve breastfeeding problems is to buy formula. “Babies can run into breastfeeding problems,” she writes, “And if those issues arise its time to supplement with formula.” This statement infers that mothers should abandon breastfeeding as soon as difficulties arise.

The article describes breastfeeding as “challenging,” “difficult,” leaving “new moms in tears”, “natural” but “not always easy”, “not always possible,” and “time-consuming.” There is “no guarantee breastfeeding will work” even if the mom is an “educated pediatrician.” By contrast infant formula is described as “ready-to-go,” “as close to breastmilk as you can possibly get,” “easier to digest,” and “conveninent.” An ad exec hired by Nestlé could scarcely do a better job than your writer of portraying breastfeeding as too much trouble and formula as the solution to any infant feeding problems.

This portrayal of infant feeding issues contradicts the advice of every respected medical organization. The World Health Organization, UNICEF, Health Canada, and the Canadian Paediatric Society all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and are very clear on the fact that infant formula is inferior to breastmilk. The World Health Organization and UNICEF have rejected the formula industry’s favoured taglines of “closer than ever to breastmilk” and “easier to digest” and have stated that such health claims are misleading and unsubstantiated. Only breastfeeding has been shown to provide infants with immunological protection from serious diseases and infections, and lower infants’ risk for conditions such as asthma, allergy, respiratory disease, childhood cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Why does this article make no mention of widely-accepted reccomendations to breastfeed, the well-known benefits of breastfeeding, or the helpful role breastfeeding support can play in an infant’s early life?

What is most disturbing is that there is much evidence to suggest that this article is not simply a poorly researched, biased excuse for a news article. It was published two days after Canada celebrated World Breastfeeding Week, a time when formula companies are more eager than ever to get their message to the public. The fact that the pediatrician quoted in your article recommends a specific brand of Nestlé formula—the same brand for which the company launched a nation-wide advertising campaign earlier this year—and has recommended this specific brand on other websites despite the fact there are identical products made by other companies, seems to suggest that she has ties to the company. Did your writer bother to investigate possible conflicts of interest Dr. Susan Russell might have? The online version of the article was also placed adjacent to an ad for an online forum run by the formula industry.

One could easily conclude that this piece was heavily influenced by the infant formula industry, and as such respresents a serious breach of ethics. In the future, promotional material such as this should be relegated to the advertisement section of your paper.

Elisabeth Sterken
National Director,
Infant Feeding Action Coalition (INFACT Canada)