Infant formula debate as senators call for ad ban

Senators sought to ban ads promoting infant formula during a recent debate (Wednesday, May 11) regarding the 2022 Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of marketing mechanisms in the infant formula industry, where she found “very concerning practices”.

Ireland exports a third of the formula made here to the Chinese market, she said, where breastfeeding rates have halved over the past decade.

According to Senator Higgins, only 6% of Irish people breastfeed for six months, compared to a global average of 40%, as Ireland has “a long tradition of not supporting breastfeeding as it should”. She added:

“The fact of the moment is that in these times when women are making decisions in this regard, the public health message must compete with that of industry and those with commercial interests.”

Despite a voluntary code from the World Health Organization (WHO) – which states, for example, that no news function should be attached to a marketing function – violations continue, Senator Higgins said.

‘Big deal’

Senator Pauline O’Reilly, who agreed a ban on online infant formula advertising is needed in Ireland, said it was “big business”. She explained:

“Infant formula advertising is not about alerting people and mothers to the possibility that they can feed them formula. It’s about looking at a vulnerable time in someone’s life and wondering how to make money out of it.

The infant formula industry in Ireland is worth €1 billion a year, which Senator O’Reilly says is why the promotion of these products is allowed.

Senator Tim Lombard, who is a dairy farmer, said it should be recognized that infant formula produced in Ireland meets the highest possible standards.

While breast is best, he said, the debate should be about lactation and mother-baby group meetings in communities and not in a hospital setting, where they are currently based. He added:

“When you consider what this bill seeks to accomplish in terms of addressing issues like gambling and sugary foods, I fundamentally think that having infant formula attached to this legislation doesn’t make sense. .

“To say that people fall in love with online advertising misses the point. I believe people choose not to breastfeed because there is no support in their community,” according to Senator Lombard.

In this regard, Senator Higgins said that while the increase in the number of lactation consultants is welcome, just over a million euros is a very small sum to invest in the promotion of carriers compared to the funds associated with a business objective.

Marilyn J. Hernandez