December 15, 2009

Mead Johnson guilty of false advertising, U.S. court finds

U.S. formula manufacturer Mead Johnson’s advertising for its Enfamil brand is misleading and unfounded, according to a federal court ruling. The ruling came as a result of a suit filed by a rival infant formula company PBM, which supplies major chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Target with store-brand formula. The ads at issue made claims that “only Enfamil Lipil is clinically proven to improve brain and eye development” and that other formula products could cause inferior development.

Health claims made by formula companies are based on marketing needs and not science, and the World Healt Assemby added a resolution to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 2005 which stated that formula companies should not be allowed to make health claims. In 2004 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned Mead Johnson against making similar claims in its ads in Canada, however the company and its rivals continue to state that its formula can enhance brain and eye development.

Mead Johnson will pay $13.5 million PBM as a result of the suit, which will be one of the largest penalties ever levied in a false advertising suit. As such, this case is a landmark decision that will hopefully lead to more honest advertising from U.S. manufacturers. However, the suit shoiuld only be seen as a partial victory at best because what is not acknowledged in the case is the toll that false health claims take on infant health. The suit acknowledges PBM as the victim because the compay lost profits as a result of aggressive adversiting by its rival. But what about compensation for the real victims of Mead Johnson’s mistruths? Namely the mothers who were discouraged from breastfeeding by Mead Johnson’s irresponsible claims? It is a shame that the formula companies are only accountable to other members of the industry and remain immune to the negative effects its advertising has on the public.

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