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Baby formula not equivalent to breast milk

37/2011, 28.10.2011

The National Breast Feeding Committee at the BfR criticises factually inaccurate advertising statements and inappropriate representations on the subject of breast milk.

Breast milk is the ideal nutrition for infants in their first few months of life. It is easy to digest and its composition covers infant needs for nutrients and fluid in a baby’s first year. Advertisements for baby formula must therefore not create the impression that artificial substitutes are equivalent or even superior to breast milk. In recent times, the National Breast Feeding Committee at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has increasingly observed unacceptable advertising for infant nutrition which contravenes the consensus of scientists and health professionals. In particular, the Committee criticises the marketing of infant formula with slogans such as "modelled on breast milk" and with images of breastfeeding mothers through which industrially manufactured baby formula is put on a par with breast milk. "Factually inaccurate advertising statements and inappropriate illustrations can confuse and deceive parents", says Managing Director of the National Breast Feeding Committee at the BfR Diana Rubin, MD, PhD.

Scientists and health professionals are in full agreement regarding their assessment of breastfeeding as being of irreplaceable value for the infant, for example due to nutrients that perfectly cater to infant needs and the ability of breast milk to reduce the risk of respiratory infections and diarrhoea. In addition, breastfeeding also has important long-term effects, since the rates for child overweight and obesity is significantly lower for children who were breastfed. Moreover, such children also develop better cognitive abilities later in life.

Representatives of the German Society of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the German Association of Paediatricians, the Professional Association of Gynaecologists, the German Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, the Association for Neonatology and Paediatric Intensive Care, the German Midwife Association and the National Breastfeeding Committee at the BfR all criticise the marketing of baby formula with slogans such as "modelled on breast milk" and pictures of breastfeeding mothers which equate baby formula with breast milk. Advertising must not lead parents to the erroneous assumption that the advertised formulas are of equal value to breastfeeding and hence jeopardise the practice of breastfeeding.

The advertising measures used are in breach of the relevant WHO codex and the legal requirements for the marketing of baby formula.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


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