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Self-regulation a bad formula for breast feeding: RACP

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The Federal Government is facing calls to ban the promotion of infant formula after it scrapped an independent panel charged with ensuring companies did not spruik their products at the expense of breast feeding.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has urged the Government to legislate to block infant formula advertising amid concerns that the abolition of the panel, which was charged with ensuring the promotion of baby formula did not undermine breast feeding, will lead to an upsurge in the use of formula.

President of the College’s paediatric and child health division, Associate Professor Susan Moloney, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the Government needed to act to prevent the promotion of infant formula, including by offering free samples, gifts or supermarket and pharmacy incentives, particularly to parents of babies less than a year old.

“We’re very concerned that if there’s no independent oversight, then we need legislation to block advertising of infant formula,” Associate Professor Moloney said.

The Infant Nutrition Council, which represents most of the major formula manufacturers, has proposed a self-administered system to monitor advertising by its members, complemented by an arm’s length complaints process.

But the Australian Breastfeeding Association told the Sun Herald such an arrangement was highly unsatisfactory.

“It’s difficult for the industry to be impartial, and there’s always that risk they’ll act in their own interests,” the Association’s Chief Executive Rachel Fuller said.

Under the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes, which has been adopted by more than 80 countries including Australia, infant formula must not be promoted in a way that undermines breast feeding.

According to the Sun Herald, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash, who was involved in the decision to scrap the independent panel, wrote to a number of concerned organisations late last year to say that Australia upheld its WHO obligations through a “voluntary, self-regulatory code of conduct between manufacturers and importers of infant formula”.

A spokesperson for Senator Nash told the newspaper that a decline in complaints and industry compliance meant the independent oversight panel was no longer necessary, and new arrangements were being developed.

Adrian Rollins