Why the RCPCH should stop taking funds from the Baby Food Industry

By Tony Waterston and Elizabeth Mason.

A collective sigh of relief could be heard from many paediatric associations around the world, after the RCPCH made known its decision to accept funding from the Baby Food Industry. There need be no self examination of the sponsorship of conference travel, educational courses, ITU equipment, gifts of all kinds and unlimited formula supplies for the maternity unit—all widespread practices in resource poor countries. When leading organisations such as the RCPCH are part of the system, why change?

The companies themselves must have anticipated this response and shown equal delight—after all previous efforts to rid the conference of baby milk stands had failed ignominiously.

Oddly the government’s anti-obesity strategy was leaked in the same week and surprise surprise, contained no restrictions on marketing, promotion, or advertising of unhealthy foods to children. How come it is so hard to impose restrictions on these wealthy corporations?

Will the companies quake in their shoes at the threat of “due diligence?” The College assures members that it can catch out dubious practice through the efforts of a sub-group of board members. And how will they go about doing this? Perhaps a polite letter to the marketing manager?

If the “due diligence” is thorough, it will include a careful read of “Breaking the Rules,” the annual publication from the International Baby Food Action Network on violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes.

Reading this, can any infant formula manufacturer pass “due diligence?”

And surely, if the RCPCH supports WHO, then its guidance should be followed—NO sponsoring of meetings of health professionals and scientific meetings.

We look forward to a time when a robust leadership of the RCPCH is prepared to stand up to the baby food industry and finally say no.

Tony Waterston is a retired paediatrician in Newcastle upon Tyne, working mainly in the community with long term conditions, disability, child abuse, and social and mental health concerns. His interests are in child public health, children’s rights, and global child health, and he leads the RCPCH teaching programme in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Conflict of interest statement: I am an advisor to Baby Milk Action.

Elizabeth Mason is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Global Health, University College London. She is former Director of the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, WHO, Geneva.

Conflict of interest statement: I have no conflict of interest

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