Nestlé apologises to the Danish Government following claims made by its Chief Executive
23rd January 2000
The Danish Government has been sent an apology by Nestlé after Nestlé's Chief Executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, incorrectly claimed that Denmark had endorsed the company's baby food marketing activities. This is highly embarrassing for Nestlé as it comes on the eve of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Executive Board meeting in Geneva. WHO estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed and is due to discuss the marketing of baby foods.
Last October Mr. Brabeck wrote to policy makers around the world enclosing a 180-page book entitled Nestlé implementation of the WHO Code and has claimed that in the book
"54 governments or appointed monitoring bodies provided written, official evidence that Nestlé's policies and practices conform with the WHO Code." (ref: Mr. Brabeck's speech The Search for Trust).
Mr. Brabeck presented the book to Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of WHO, in July 1999.
Yet when Bente Koch of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration was asked by Baby Milk Action if she knew Nestlé would publish a letter from her in its book, she said:
"We are very surprised. We had the impression that Nestlé would use the letter in connection with export of infant formulas to countries outside the EU in order to inform about the fact that Denmark had implemented the Commission's Directives. It is the responsibility of the marketer or distributor to ensure their marketing is in accordance with Danish Regulations. We never certify that a producer is marketing in accordance with the Danish Regulations. We have only given a description of the system."
News that Nestlé has apologised to Danish authorities appears in Nestlé's January Code "Action" Report, prompted by the publication of a letter from Baby Milk Action in the same report. Mike Brady, Campaigns and Networking Coordinator, Baby Milk Action, explains:
"Nestlé's November "Action" report contained allegations which I believe are defamatory to Baby Milk Action. I asked Mr. Brabeck to instruct the editor to publish a letter from me in response to the allegations. This included our concerns about the way the Danish letter has been misrepresented. Nestlé took legal advice and, while not agreeing that its allegations are defamatory, agreed to publish my letter. Of course, Nestlé has presented my letter in a way that suits it, but at least people now know that Mr. Brabeck's claims require close scrutiny. I believe that countries in addition to Denmark also deserve apologies from Nestlé. I hope these will appear in future 'Action' reports."
Mr. Brady may well be seeking a right-to-reply to other claims made in Nestlé's "Action" report. Mr. Brabeck alleges that NGOs have failed to accept a call to meetings at WHO made over a year ago. This is incorrect. Baby Milk Action and other concerned NGOs met with Dr. Brundtland on 19th November 1998 and WHO confirmed in December 1999 that no invitation to a proposed follow-up meeting has yet been sent out.
- For further information contact Mike Brady, Baby Milk Action, 23 St. Andrew's Street, Cambridge, CB2 3AX, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 464420 Fax: +44 (0)1223 464417 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Baby Milk Action's Policy Director, Patti Rundall, is in Geneva for the WHO Executive Board meeting and may be available for interview (contact Mike Brady). Patti received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year's Honour List for "services to infant nutrition."
- The Baby Milk Action website contains evidence of marketing malpractice by Nestlé and other companies in the Codewatch section and down-loadable colour pictures (generally 300 pixels/inch).
- Other letters in Nestlé's book have been misrepresented. For example, the letter from the Cook Islands is hardly a convincing verification of compliance when it states: "I have not noticed any of their products being sold here." The Minister of Health of the Palestine Authority has reportedly complained that his letter has been mistranslated and the Head of Child Health, Oman, has reportedly stated that the letter issued by him was sent to all infant formula companies thanking them for attending a meeting which he had called in November 1998 and that his letter in no way confirms or certifies that Nestlé is complying with the Code in Oman. The Baby Milk Action briefing paper Don't Judge a Book by its Cover exposes other peculiarities about letters in the book.
- The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 as a "minimum requirement" for all countries. Subsequent Resolutions have clarified its interpretation and addressed changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge. Discussions on the need for a further resolution are expected at the WHO Executive Board meeting.
- The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed. Where water is unsafe a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child (source: UNICEF). A marketing code was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 setting out marketing requirements for breastmilk substitutes. Subsequent Resolutions have clarified interpretation of the Code and addressed changes in marketing practices and scientific knowledge.
- Baby Milk Action launched a legal fund in 1999 to enable it to take legal action to expose and stop company malpractice. This followed its successful challenge against Nestlé before the UK Advertising Standards Authority. Nestlé had claimed in an advertisement that it markets infant formula "ethically and responsibly". All of Baby Milk Action's complaints about the advertisement were upheld in a ruling published on 12th May 1999.
- Baby Milk Action coordinates the 19-country international Nestlé boycott. Nestlé is the target of boycott action because it controls about 40% of the baby milk market and monitoring finds it to be the largest single source of violations of the International Code and Resolutions. Nestlé also appears to take the lead in attempting to undermine government implementation of these measures.