By golly.  The US embassy lobbied against a breastfeeding campaign in the Philippines and blocked revisions in the Philippine Milk Code’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs). “The IRRs would ultimately harm the consumer by denying information. It will also damage the milk industry and negatively affect employment.”

How is the milk industry more important than kids dying of diarrhoea? Diarrhoea they wouldn’t have if they weren’t being fed formula made up with dirty water?

What we find in this cable is that the powers that be in the Philippines drafted revisions to their Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs) of the Milk Code which regulate the advertising of milk formula for infants. These revisions were based on recommendations of the International Labor Organization Maternity Protection Convention 183 and the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, as well as the UNICEF’s Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding. An earlier draft had included more controversial clauses including prohibiting the use of brand names and company logos on milk replacement products for use with infants over three years of age and a requirement for prescriptions for infant formula products. These clauses had already been removed before the meeting between the US embassy and the Department of Health in the Philippines.

Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Alex Padilla justified the revisions to  then US Chargé d’Affaires and later Deputy Chief of Mission Paul Jones during a meeting on December 12, 2005. He said that since 1987, breastfeeding rates have declined significantly and now only 16 percent of mothers now exclusively breastfeed their infants up to six months of age.  He argued that during this period of decline in breastfeeding, infant formula sales have increased dramatically.  Padilla added that the Philippines has a high mortality rate for children under five years of age and that diarrhea is a significant cause of death for  this group.  He singled out infant formula as a major  cause of diarrhoea.

Mr Jones dismissed the justifications in the cable by saying that Mr  Padilla’s information is unsubstantiated. He also said that the revisions have been made due to pressure from an influential breastfeeding lobby group and then that “industry says that data is wrong on formula”. Industry is concerned that the IRR seeks to prohibit rather than regulate, that it infringes on intellectual property and that it defines an infant as a child under 3 years of age which exceeds international standards. They also say that infant formula only has a penetration rate of 9% and that poorer people use watered down condensed milk and rice water rather than formula.

Insert eye roll here.

Why even entertain the the thought that you can trust industry data over UNICEF data?

And even IF their 9% penetration rate is accurate (pfft), no one expects this one measure alone to boost breastfeeding rates and reduce the number of kids dying of preventable diarrhoea. It doesn’t mean that formula manufactures should be enabled to market formula as a just as good as breastfeeding substitute. It doesn’t mean we should stand aside and let them lead a mother to believe that formula is safe in a country where clean water is not accessible by everyone.  Formula is something that should be used to keep babies alive when the better option is not available. I would hope and assume that this revision is part of a wider strategy to improve breastfeeding rates and reduce infant mortality. A part of a solution that is most definitely not- in the words of Mr Jones  “barking up the wrong tree”.

Of course this is just about the pharmaceutical industry not wanting their marketing efforts further complicated. As if it’s about anything more than money.

My burning question is why does the US get a say in policy decisions made by the Department of Health in the Philippines?

What you think?