tors, nurses, medical experts and critics,
and the formula companies the opportunity to present their testimonies.
Kennedy asked the subcommittee
"Can a product which requires clean
water, good sanitation, adequate family
income and a literate parent to follow
printed instructions be properly and safely used in areas where water is contaminated, sewage runs in the streets, poverty is
severe and illiteracy is high? . . . When economic incentives are in conflict with
public health requirements how shall that
conflict be resolved? Is it enough to establish a code for product use and disown
or turn away from the realities of product
Four years before the Senate hearing,
a Roman Catholic order, the Sisters of
the Precious Blood became concerned.
Share-holders in the Bristol-Myers corporation which manufactures and markets
Enfamil and Olac infant formulas, they
asked the same questions of their corporation. They filed a shareholder's resolution in December 1974 asking for information on the company's promotion and
sales practices in the Third World. At first
Bristol-Myers refused to give the information. Later, they asserted in a proxy statement that 'Infant formula products are
neither intended nor promoted for private
purchase where chronic poverty or ignorance could lead to product misuse or
After making their own investigation,
gathering extensive affidavits from pediatricians and nutritionists in 15 impoverished countries, the order had proof that
sales to private persons and abuse of
Bristol—Myer's products were widespread.
After attempting settlement through
negotiations, the nuns filed suit in April
The suit was dismissed a year later on
the grounds that whether or not assertions in the company's proxy statement
were true, the sisters were not caused "irreparable harm." Nevertheless, Bristol-
Myers and the nuns reached an out-of-
court settlement in which the firm promised it would send to all stockholders a report on infant formula misuse prepared
by the religious order at the Interfaith
Center (a coalition of church groups).
The company also promised to end "all
consumer-directed formula promotion in
the hospital, home and clinic as well as in
more public places."
In the summer of 1976 an international conference was held in Switzerland to
plan strategies for continuing the struggle.
In the United States, 19 members of
Congress co-sponsored a resolution calling
for an investigation of American formula
companies. Church groups submitted further resolutions to American companies
calling for major revisions in their marketing codes for Third World countries.
These companies were asked to end their
practice of providing free samples to new
mothers in hospitals and at home.
Formula companies were also asked to
discontinue their practice of putting their
saleswomen in nurse's uniforms, thus implying that such women were a part of
the medical community. Such "milk
nurses" were commonly sent to visit
Third World women upon the birth of
"But the 'milk nurses' weren't hired
just to work as nurses," points out Douglas A. Johnson, national chair of INFACT.
"They were hired to look like nurses and
to promote formula—to exploit every
mother's desire to do what's best for her
baby-regardless of what the cost in babies'
lives might be.
"The cost is staggering. For in places
where pure water and knowledge of sterilizing procedures are scarce, artificial milk
formula (which lacks natural antibodies
found in mother's milk) is like a loaded
gun. Improperly prepared, the bottle is a
breeding ground for bacteria that cause
acute diarrhea, malnutrition . . . and
"The infant formula peddlers are protecting a billion dollars a year in sales to
Third World countries."
The response from American milk
companies has been varied. Abbott Laboratories, makers of Similac and Isomil,
revised their code of marketing ethics and
took their saleswomen out of nurses' uniforms. The most prompt and thorough response came from the Borden company,
which completely withdrew all promotion of KLIM, their milk for nursing
babies. American companies, albeit grudgingly, responded to public pressure and
agreed to make some concessions.
Such was not the case with the Nestle
company, the largest seller of infant
formula in developing countries.
Following the 1976 international conference, Nestle claimed to have taken
milk nurses out of white uniforms. They
are now in colored uniforms. Nestle
claimed to have withdrawn direct media
advertising in Africa in 1976 and not to
have advertised at all in Latin America.
They also claimed to be stressing the importance of breast-feeding on labels and
Evidently, these claims are not all to
be trusted. Extensive TV and radio advertising for Nestle's Lactogen was reported
throughout 1976 and 1977 in Malaysia,
Rhodesia and Liberia. Several reports describe Nestle formula posters in local
stores in Guatemala and Honduras and
newspaper ads in Uruguay. The Malaysian
newspaper Utusan Konsumer reported on
a Nestle-sponsored baby show in October
1978, four months after Nestle claimed
to have suspended all direct consumer advertising.
Since the irresponsible promotion of
infant formula has continued, Sen. Kennedy has asked the World Health Organization to examine the findings of the U. S.
Senate hearings. WHO has agreed to host
a conference to bring Third World health
personnel, medical authorities, the industry and industry critics together in Geneva, Switzerland, in October, 1979.
This three-day conference in Geneva
could result in the development of a
strong policy on formula marketing, and
an enforceable international monitoring
system to ensure that marketing codes
and policies are enacted. The conference
could result in an effective control over
the indiscriminate and dangerous marketing of infant formula in developing countries.
While many conferences have been
held on this problem previously, this represents the first time that industry critics
will be afforded an official role. It is also
the first time that Third World health
people can enter a conference on any issue related to hunger with a strong ally—a
grass-roots campaign of growing reputation and international character.
The products boycotted include the following: Nescafe, Nestea, Quik, Crunch
chocolate bars, Taster's Choice and DeCaf coffee, Souptime, and the products of
affiliates: Lib by, Stouffer, Crosse & Blackwell, Maggi, Swiss Knight cheese and Deer
Park Mountain Spring Water.
INFACT has received two large grants to encourage participation in the boycott.
One grant, for $7,500, came from Ms. magazine, and one for $5,000 came from the
Dominican Fathers, a portion of which was earmarked for Texas. Materials and representatives were sent to Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio to strengthen support against formula promotions.
A new chapter of INFACT is being formed in Houston. Contact INFACT, 4415
O'Meara, Houston TX 77035, or call Judy Hopkinson at 721-6476.
452 W. 19th St. (inThe Heights)
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