Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Int’l groups back RP’s pro-breastfeeding code

May ilang dekada na tayong pinagloloko, nililinlang at pinagsasamantalahan ng tatlong dambuhalang US formula companies na kinabibilangan ng Abbott Ross, Mead Johnson at Wyeth, Gerber (pag-aari na ng Swiss NOVARTIS) at iba pang international pharmaceutical giants. Napapanahon na upang siguro'y ilantad ang tunay na kadimonyohan ng mga malalaking kumpanyang GATAS na ito na patuloy na nanggogoyo sa mamamayang Pilipino at sa iba pang mga bansang dukhang kabilang sa Third World Countries.

Ang katarantaduhang ipinapalaganap na marketing strategy ng mga ito, na kesyo kapag ininum ito ng isang batang sanggol ay magiging MATALINO at lulusog, etc..etc...etc.. Sa totoo lang, ang katalinuhan, intelligence (intelectual) at emotional upbringing, capacity ng isang bata ay dulot ng kanyang kapaligiran, nasa kanyang mga MAGULANG, nasa paghuhubog na pagpoprograma ng kanyang Nanay at Tatay, hindi dahil sa isang nakadelatang gatas ng baka na sa totoo lang ay nakakaLASON!!

Kaya, isang bagsak para sa mga taga Department of Health (DOH) at mga NGOs, specially ARUGAAN na nagsulong ng BREASTFEEDING advocacy sa Pilipinas - doy / IPD

By Christian V. Esguerra, Philip Tubeza
Last updated 00:22am (Mla time) 11/21/2006

EXPRESSIONS of support from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom, poured in Monday in the wake of the “blackmail” the Philippine government got from American businessmen over its rules regulating the marketing of infant milk formula.

“Do not let yourself be bullied by these outrageously inhuman beings -- they are not supported by the citizens of their countries,” a mother from the United States wrote in an Internet-based “petition of solidarity” started by the global advocacy group Baby Milk Action.

“I admire the Philippines (for) taking this strong action to protect infants,” wrote another from Canada. “Infant health should always take precedence over corporate interests.”

Similar messages continue to fill the online pages of the Baby Milk Action petition, all attacking the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.

Mothers and breast milk advocates were outraged by the letter of Thomas Donahue, chamber president and chief executive officer, warning President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the government’s position against infant formulas.

“It has been brought to my attention that a recent regulatory decision by an agency of your government would have unintended negative consequences for investors' confidence in the predictability of business law in the Philippines,” Donahue said in the letter dated August 11.

Donahue was referring to the revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Executive Order No. 51 or the Milk Code, which limits the marketing of infant formulas and requires companies to put labels on their products warning of possible health hazards.

He said the chamber was particularly “concerned about the effects this decision will have on the pharmaceutical industry.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier described the Donahue letter as a form of “pressure” and “a subtle blackmail.” Malacañang stood by Duque on Monday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, who was in Singapore with the President, said Duque was acting in the country’s “interest.” However, he said the government was also trying to “address” the concerns of the American businessmen.

“The secretary of health is the point person on this issue and is acting in our national interest without straining our diplomatic and trading ties with any nation,” Bunye said in a statement.

He said the IRR was “already undergoing a review to address the comments of the US Chamber of Commerce.”

“The Philippines as a matter of national policy supports and promotes breastfeeding and adheres to reasonably strict standards for the entry of infant milk formula products in the Philippines,” he said.

In a statement, Nestlé Philippines Inc. said it was supporting the proposal to prohibit the use of identical or similar brand names both for infant formulas and for other milk products not covered by the Milk Code.

“The proposal will strengthen the effective and transparent enforcement of the ban on the advertising of infant milk,” Nestlé said in a statement on Monday.

It said it was also supporting an advertising ban on breast milk substitutes for infants aged up to 12 months. In contrast, the IRR regulates the advertising of milk formula for children aged up to 24 months, which is consistent with the World Health Assembly resolutions and the Infant and Young Child Feeding Convention to which the Philippines is a signatory.

The International Baby Food Action Network (Ibfan) in Europe, representing 58 groups in 35 countries across the continent, endorsed the petition supporting the Philippine government’s policies on infant formulas.

From England, a certain Jennifer wrote: “The health of children of the Philippines is of far greater importance than the accumulation of profits by baby milk companies." “It is shameful that companies and individuals should undermine the health of babies purely to make money.”

In a letter to Arroyo dated September 25, the World Alliance for Breast-feeding Action (WABA) commended the government for standing firm on the Milk Code.

“The efforts of your team in strengthening the existing EO 51 (Milk Code) are being followed by experts on the international field of infant and young child feeding and [by] breastfeeding advocates worldwide,” WABA Chair Beth Styer wrote. “We applaud your courage and conviction in the face of adversity.”

The group is an alliance of individuals and organizations promoting breastfeeding.

Besides Styer, representatives of the International Lactation Consultant Association, of the Academy of Breast-feeding Medicine and of Ibfan signed the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer.

The letter was accompanied by a press statement saying that the US Chamber of Commerce was exerting “direct pressure” on the Philippines “to withdraw newly introduced regulations that protect breast-feeding and infant and young child health.”

Consistent with the findings of international experts, the IRR drafted by the Department of Health required milk formula companies to put up labels warning that their products “may” contain either “Enterobacter sakasakii” or “salmonella.”

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization earlier found that “intrinsic contamination of powdered infant formula [by E.] sakasakii and salmonella is a cause of illness and infection.”

E. sakasakii has been identified with sepsis and meningitis while salmonella causes food poisoning. The Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines earlier challenged the IRR of the new Milk Code in court.

“The court refused to issue the requested temporary restraining order,” the Baby Milk Action said on its website. “However, it reversed this decision four days after the President was contacted by the US Chamber of Commerce.”


Direct pressure is being exerted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the President of the Philippines to withdraw newly introduced regulations that protect breastfeeding and child health. In a leaked letter dated 11 August, the President of the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr Thomas Donohue, warned President Arroyo of “the risk to the reputation of the Philippines as a stable and viable destination for investment” if she did not “re-examine this regulatory decision”. He was referring to marketing restrictions on pharmaceutical and formula companies.

In July 2006, new Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) to restrict marketing practices used to boost formula sales were to come into force. These regulations, issued by the Philippines Department of Health must be seen in the light of the 1986 Executive Order 51 also known as the “Milk Code”, a law restricting promotion of infant foods, based on the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The “Milk Code” had become somewhat outdated in view of changing marketing practices and the IRR were a way to bridge the gap. They also reflected relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions, endorsed by all countries including Philippines and the USA.

In protest over the IRR, the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines (PHAP) representing three main US formula companies (Abbott Ross, Mead Johnson and Wyeth), Gerber (now owned by Swiss NOVARTIS) and other international pharmaceutical giants, took the Filipino government to court. In July, the Supreme Court declined PHAP’s application for a temporary restraining order to stop the IRR from coming into effect. Both initiation and duration of breastfeeding had dangerously declined and it was very necessary to halt commercial promotion for bottle feeding. Babies must come before business.

Within a month, however, on August 15, just 4 days after the letter by the American Chamber of Commerce, the Supreme Court, overturned its own decision by granting a temporary restraining order in favour of PHAP. While a court case is pending, no one should comment on its merits. The letter by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can therefore be seen as a direct threat to the independence of the judiciary. This should not happen anywhere, not in the Philippines or in any other country.

We wish to publicise and denounce the interference by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and express our support for the Implementing Rules and Regulations issued by the Department of Health. We also reaffirm that use of infant formula is indeed a potential hazard to infant health, and that promotion of such foods undermines breastfeeding, putting health at risk. WHO and UNICEF both agree that the risks of artificial feeding should be highlighted. [Innocenti Declaration 2005 on Infant and Young Child Feeding, 22 November 2005, Florence, Italy.]

We therefore call upon the business sector in the US and in Manila to exercise restraint and also call upon various arms of the Government of the Philippines – Judiciary, Executive and Legislature – to carry out their duties independently and without fear or favour so as to fulfil the right of the children of Philippines to the best attainable standard of health.

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