Unite-CPHVA is the Health Visitors’ union. They have a conference every year, big affair, lots of important topics discussed. Many of the individual sessions are sponsored by businesses. I would hope that delegates ponder this when considering the quality of information that they are receiving. I guess a conference is an expensive thing to stage and sponsorship comes in handy. Nevertheless, I have huge concerns over two of the talks this year:
12:35 on Day 1
Feeding for the future
- Breastfeeding: The ideal start for a healthy future
- Assessing the importance of growth patterns
- Exploring optimal nutrition for optimal health outcomes
Professor Alan Lucas, Professor of Paediatric Nutrition, University College London
Supported by Nestle
10:30 on Day 2
Weaning the cows’ milk allergic infant
- Understand the nutritional challenges of weaning an infant with cows’ milk allergy
- Recognise the options for achieving a nutritionally balanced weaning diet for an infant with cows’ milk allergy
- Receive practical tips to pass to mums
Rachel De Boer, Paediatric Allergy Dietitian, St Thomas’s Hospital London
Supported by Danone Nutricia
Now, I know that some of you will immediately see the problem. Not everyone will however, so let me explain my concerns. It is easy for me to put them together, as I already contacted the professional officer at Unite responsible for these decisions. I emailed him back in February as I was aware that these conferences often feature Nestle and Danone. This is what I wrote to him:
The officer responded by asking me what specific questions I had for him so I asked “what plans does Unite have for significantly reducing the amount of formula advertising at its conference and in CommPrac?” I was told that there are plans to reduce the percentage of advertising and exhibition space given to infant formula producers on both platforms. This is due to updates to the union’s ethical policy as at summer 2014.
I also asked “with regards to the fact that WHO code compliant organisations cannot take stands at conferences where infant formula companies are exhibiting, are there plans to make future Unite conferences accessible to these organisations by removing the formula companies and replacing them with neutral organisations such as First Steps Nutrition?” I was told that the mix of exhibitors is reflective of the union’s membership, which has a variety of opinion on this issue.
No doubt. However, in the few conversations I have had with health visitors about this issue their main concern is that they need good quality information about infant milks and formulas. Once they realise that this information is available via First Steps Nutrition (and is free from a marketing slant) they are less interested in the information that the companies themselves have to offer them.
Baby Milk Action has numerous resources explaining the unethical practices of Nestle, Danone and others, and why it is important for all of us to reject formula company sponsorship. It is so easy for vested interests to encourage mothers and healthcare professionals to reject sentiments such as these on the basis of people “pushing” breastfeeding or being intolerant of others’ feeding choices. So let me be very clear:
The use of formula is a valid parenting choice. We need mothers and the healthcare professionals who support them to have a full understanding of the types of formula available, their contents, the best way to use them and their limitations. We need mothers and the healthcare professionals who support them to have faith in breastfeeding so that when that is the chosen method of feeding it is not undermined by negative messages.
That is why I hope that Unite-CPHVA members call for a swift end to Nestle and Danone’s involvement in their conference. Because their presence there restricts the access of HCPs to good quality information about formula. It restricts their access to good quality information about breastfeeding. And as a result it restricts the support that these professionals can provide to families.
It really is as simple as that.