Formula milk scandal: One in three NHS boards have accepted payment or sponsorship from makers
- Formula firms ‘are using “trojan horse” formulas to make links with UK doctors’
- Companies must not advertise or promote formulas for babies under six months
- But experts say companies are using specialised formulas to get round the rules
- A third of NHS health boards got sponsorship or payments from formula firms
A third of NHS health boards have broken guidelines by accepting payments or sponsorship from baby formula companies, an investigation has revealed.
The marketing of infant formula is strictly regulated to try to halt plummeting rates of breastfeeding.
Companies are not allowed to advertise or promote formula designed for infants under the age of six months, and the World Health Organisation code of practice says no medical organisation or doctor should accept payments from formula firms.
The World Health Organisation code of practice says no medical organisation or doctor should accept payments from formula firms. Experts believe companies use their specialised formulas as a ‘Trojan horse’ to create links with doctors for their normal baby products [File photo]
But 59 out of 195 clinical commissioning groups in England have recorded at least one breach of the WHO code since 2014, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches reveals. In Wales, five out of the seven local health boards recorded a breach.
Experts believe companies use their specialised formulas – such as ‘hydrolysed’ products for children with allergies – as a ‘Trojan horse’ to create links with doctors for their normal baby formula products, which they are banned from marketing.
Sue Ashmore of Unicef UK said: ‘Powerful multi-national companies have been pushing the boundaries of existing legislation to promote their products. We urgently need better legislation to protect babies.’
Dr Laura de Rooy, a consultant neonatologist at St George’s Hospital, London, said she suspects some doctors are promoting products after being influenced by the industry.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘It is completely unacceptable for health care providers or workers to receive financial incentives of any kind to endorse particular brands.’
The British Specialist Nutrition Association, whose members include Danone Nutricia, Mead Johnson and Nestle, told Dispatches: ‘We believe we have a responsibility to provide information [to healthcare professionals] so that they can advise parents about feeding their babies.
‘We are only allowed to make legally approved claims and we believe it is irresponsible to suggest to parents and carers that they cannot trust these.’
The Great Formula Milk Scandal: Dispatches is on Channel 4 today at 8pm.
The marketing of infant formula is strictly regulated to try to halt plummeting rates of breastfeeding. Companies are not allowed to advertise or promote formula designed for infants under the age of six months [File photo]