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Saturday Feature
Reining in the babyfood companies
Munima Sultana

          WITH business promotion strategy or corporate social responsibility, business community has always tried to make their products popular. In some cases, they use this powerful tool to rule the mind of people for adopting low quality, health hazardous products.
Such cases came to the notice of two government hospitals for which baby food marketing companies were to blame. What happened in these cases, representatives of My Boy and Enfamil baby foods used the common notions of gifting people on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitre in Sir Salimullah Medical College and Midford Hospital. They took the promotional strategy as a means to win the mind of the consumers.
But the ill motive of the distributors came out in front of the people when the ayas were (midwives) locked in conflicts on the hospital premises over their share of sarees.
Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation (BBF) that deserved the credit to unearth this kind of activities in last Eid festival however said that this was not only case. They have found different kinds of products like calendar distribution as gift among the people involved in child development so that they prescribe their products which cannot be as good as breast milk.
Labin Rahman, Assistant Coordinator of BBF, said that despite this kind of activities have been restricted by a law "Breast Milk Substitute Regulation of Marketing", the representatives have taken the business strategies using the loopholes of the law. If necessary they have also changed their ways, she said.
As a reflection of this kind of promotional activities, BBF has found that doctors, paramedics, nurses and many others have still prescribed either on white pad and verbally suggested mothers or parent to feed their children baby foods.
But this was not the first case identified in babyfood products. Earlier three multinational companies were convicted of violating rules of BMS regulation of marketing. Urmi Enterprise and Lalmai Limited, the distributors of Enfamil and My Boy, were also among the convicts. They violated the rules showing pictures of healthy children in different products as well as distributing gift items.
Interesting was that when they were convicted they also admitted their guilt. But, after a few years, they changed their ways of promotional activities and silently carried out the work. BBF that has been working for protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding has now observed that BMS Regulation of Marketing enacted in 1984 is now unfit in many cases.
Lalmai Limited, distributor of My Boy-Eldosoy, My Boy-Eldoplus of Holland-based Cobero Omefa, were convicted for violating the section 3 and 4 of BMS Regulation in 1999. Urmi Enterprise Private Limited the distributor of Enfamil Infant Formula, Infapro Followup Formula, O-Lac Lactose Free Infant Formula of UK-based Mid Johnson, was guilty under section 3, 4A and 5 D of BMS.
Labin said in the present context, the law has lacking to hold the violators in broader scale for which doctors and others related can escape. Likewise, she said amendment to the law is also needed to decentralize the authority to sue the rule violators as well as change in language so that all stakeholders can be more accountable.
At present only director of Institute of Public Health and Nutrition has the authority to sue against any company if its activity violates the rule. But provision to reauthorize concerned people like civil surgeon at district level was not carried out
Ensuring breast milk to all newborn babies is a national and international commitment of the government. It has signed the Innocenti Declaration as well as has adopted Dhaka Declaration to ensure the rights of the children to get this natural milk. Upon this commitment, government in lone partnership with BBF has been making efforts to make hospitals baby-friendly and increase the awareness level of all stakeholders. It has link with the government other health related programmes including nutrition, child and maternal death reduction.
But all these efforts of the government will go in vain if the ill activities of this type of rule violators cannot be checked through removing the loopholes of the law.
Sarwar of BBF said, the BMS has so far been able to rule the baby food companies in many ways and added that time has brought many changes in the business for which the law needs to be updated.


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