Nestle boycott comes to Texas
** A report compiled by Judy Hopkinson and Karen Spearman
Why should there be any issue whether or
not the Nestle Company of Vevey, Switzerland, is responsible for the illness and
death of many Third World babies? Certainly there is no question of intention;
no one has found strychnine or arsenic in
their baby formula, Lactogen, and naturally it is to their advantage to have more
rather than fewer hungry mouths to consume their product. But a cause-and-effect
relation is hard to deny.
The situation, in brief, is this: Birthrates are declining in many developed
countries; there is a tendency to return to
breast-feeding. Partly for these reasons,
no doubt, the makers of baby formula
have been promoting their products widely and aggressively in the Third World,
where birthrates are still increasing.
—Gracia Fay Ellwood
The Reformed Journal
Advertising campaigns by large western
companies are trying to convince mothers
in Third World countries to substitute
powdered formula for their own milk.
The mothers getting the message are not
undernourished, unhealthy women in famine areas, but mothers in big city slums
and in villages throughout Africa, Asia
and Latin America. Representatives from
western corporations like Bristol-Myers,
Borden's, and Nestle pose as health authorities to persuade women that the best
diet for their child is powdered formula,
The seriousness of this problem was
recognized as early as 1969, although it
gained widespread attention in the United
States only in the mid-70's.
Only now has the issue reached Texas.
Joining their counterparts coast to coast
Texas women are organizing groups and
communities to fight this threat to the
health and lives of the world's infants.
More information against bottle feeding of Third World infants is being produced daily. "My interpretation of the
scientific evidence leaves absolutely no
doubt in my mind that bottle feeding is a
major cause of morbidity and mortality
in developing countries," states Dr.
Michael Latham of Cornell University's
Division of Nutritional Science.
From data collected in seven Punjab
villages, Drs. D. B. and E. F. P. Jelliffe
(Human Milk in the Modern World)
showed that the infant mortality rate in
the artificially fed was 950 per 1000 live
births compared with 120 in the breastfed.
Scientific evidence demonstrates that
even under optimal conditions the bottle-
fed baby is two-to-three times more likely
to encounter significant diseases than its
breast-fed counterpart. This difference is
far more dramatic in the impoverished environments of the Third World.
A 1978 World Health Organization report explains why:
(tThe probability of mothers having
access to clean water is low . . . and
preparation of formulas will almost
inevitably lend itself to contamination, . . . Mothers who become dependent upon breast milk substitutes
are often unable to purchase the
quantity of commercially-prepared
products that would be needed . . .
Over-dilution of what little can be
afforded is a well-known solution
turned to by many mothers . . . Its
results are disastrous for the health
of the child
Twenty years ago, 95 percent of
Chilean mothers breast-fed their children
beyond the first year of life; by 1969 only 6 percent did so, and only 20 percent
of the babies were nursed for as long as
two months. In Singapore breast-feeding
rates among poor families plummeted
from 71 percent in 1951 to 5 percent in
1971. Trends are similar throughout the
developing world, and so the cost in lives
is enormous. Studies in Chile, for example, show that death rates are significantly
higher for bottle-fed infants than for
breast-fed babies. And as formula feeding
rises, the average age for the onset of infant malnutrition has dropped from 18
months to eight.
Why then, is breast-feeding declining,
in some cases precipitously? Among the
most commonly cited explanations are:
urbanization and the increasing number
of women in the organized workforce,
modernization which seems to have glorified the feeding bottle as a symbol of
status and prestige, and the unbridled
commercial promotion of infant formulas
by American, European and Japanese
multinational corporations. This last factor has been at the center of a stormy
international controversy that has pitted
the industry against a variety of health
professionals, public interest groups and
social justice activists.
In January 1977, these groups formed
a coalition to organize a grass-roots campaign to halt the unethical promotion of
infant formula by multinational corporations in developing countries. They called
themselves INFACT, the Infant Formula
The following July, a boycott of all
Nestle products was announced by
INFACT and the Third World Institute in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Being a Swiss
company, Nestle is not subject to shareholder resolutions, lawsuits or U. S. legislation—tactics used successfully with
American companies such as Borden's,
Abbott and Bristol-Myers.)
Their demands were: (1) immediately
stop all promotion of Nestle artificial formula, (2) stop mass media advertising of
formula, (3) stop distribution of free samples to hospitals, clinics, and homes of
newborn, (4) discontinue the Nestle milk
nurses, and (5) stop promotion through
the medical profession. The boycott soon
spread to other cities and became the focus of citizen action programs throughout
the United States.
The campaign now lists over 200 cooperating organizations and hundreds of
individual organizers. Most organizers are
women, many of whom have never been
involved in a cause before.
Ralph Nader had predicted that the
campaign would "likely become a major
cause in the corporate responsibility
movement throughout the world." The
boycott is now estimated to be the largest
non-union boycott in U. S. history.
The efforts of organizations against
the formula promotion served to increase
public awareness in the U. S. and a nationwide letter-writing campaign was started.
This campaign resulted in hearings by the
U. S. Senate Subcommittee on Health
and Scientific Research on May 23, 1978,
with Sen. Edward Kennedy as chair.
The hearings gave Third World doc-
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