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No major baby food brand fully complied with WHO marketing code, says ATNI

Article-No major baby food brand fully complied with WHO marketing code, says ATNI

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Brands including Danone, Kraft Heinz, and Nestlé stand accused of not following international standards for the marketing of complementary food for infants and young children.

The BMS and CF Marketing Indexes 2024, authored by the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI), a global nonprofit, found that no company fully complied with the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

“The findings from the marketing indexes highlight the continuing failure of the baby food industry to adhere to the code,” said Kathy Spahn, ATNI board member and former president and CEO of Helen Keller International.

“It is worrying to see industry taking advantage of increasingly pervasive social media platforms and online channels to undermine mothers' confidence and to promote products that threaten the health of infants and young children."

None of the 18 companies assessed scored 100% compliance with code

The report also found that while none of the 18 companies assessed scored 100% compliance with the code, the highest total score (37%) was achieved by FrieslandCampina.

This was followed by four companies achieving a score between 20 and 33% (Danone, Hain Celestial, H&H, and Nestlé).

“We are thrilled with ATNI's recognition of our efforts to strengthen our BMS marketing policy,” said Harvey Uong, president of specialised nutrition at FrieslandCampina.

“While we are pleased with the level of compliance observed, it's important to recognise that ATNI's criteria for evaluating marketing compliance differ from local codes and laws.

“We firmly believe that individual countries are best positioned to determine appropriate marketing practices within their national contexts, aligned with their public health objectives.”

ATNI’s methodology ‘may unfairly penalise companies with a large portfolio’

Echoing similar sentiments, Nestlé also focused on country-specific regulation as well as ATNI’s methodology in reaching its conclusions.

“ATNI acknowledges that inconsistency in the level of information gathered through companies and service providers means that the indexes may not represent the full extent of [the companies’] efforts," it said.

“The methodology adopted may unfairly penalise companies with a large portfolio assessed because the absolute numbers used by ATNI can easily trigger lower scoring, resulting from a high number of incidences of ‘non-compliance’.

“Along with other members of the industry, we informed ATNI we fundamentally disagree with their methodology. We are concerned that their approach could risk stakeholders misinterpreting our compliance record.”

Further findings of the report revealed three companies scored between 13 and 18% (A2 Milk, HiPP, and Morinaga Milk), while two companies scored below 10% (Abbott and Reckitt).

Eight companies (Beingmate, Feihe, Hero, Junlebao, Lactalis, Mead Johnson China, Vinamilk, and Yili) scored 0%.

Second ATNI report focuses on commercial complementary foods in 10 markets

ATNI also published results of another investigation, in which six leading brands stand accused of producing nutritionally inadequate foods for infants and young children.

The report found that of the 1,297 infant and toddler products made available by Danone, Hain Celestial, Hero, HiPP, Kraft Heinz, and Nestlé in 10 markets, just 35% met all nutritional requirements set out by the WHO model for complementary foods.

“ATNI's complementary foods assessment shows a concerning trend in the nutritional quality of commercial baby foods for infants over six months and young children across multiple countries,” said Greg S Garrett, ATNI’s executive director.

“Between 25 and 33% of the products assessed contained excessive levels of sugar, or inappropriate energy levels.”

Other findings in the report, entitled Product Profile of Commercial Complementary Foods in 10 Markets, found that proportions of products meeting nutrient composition criteria varied across categories, with “meals” having the highest frequency and “snacks” and “dairy” the lowest.