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26 February 2007

Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, issued the following statement today. Ziegler is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Jean Ziegler, is deeply concerned about the current media campaign supporting breastmilk substitutes, organized by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). This commercial campaign, appearing in some of the Philippines’s top newspapers is, according to the Special Rapporteur, misleading, deceptive, and malicious in intent.

Mr. Ziegler is concerned that the content of this campaign’s materials manipulate data emanating from UN specialized agencies such as WHO and UNICEF, as well as the Filipino Department of Health, with the sole purpose to protect the milk companies’ huge profits, regardless of the best interest of Filipino mothers and children. He also expressed his disappointment on the irresponsible and unethical behavior of some medical practitioners and organizations, which have lent themselves to support these companies’ selfish interest. The aggressive marketing practices by milk companies contribute to misleading the public by claiming that breastfeeding can not be done by a majority of women and that their products raise healthy, smart, and happy babies.

In 2003 the WHO estimated that 16,000 children under the age of 5 died in the Philippines as a result of improper feeding practices including infant formula. Today, only 16 per cent of children at four to five months of age are exclusively breastfed and 13% of infants are not breastfed at all.

In July 2006, after several years of consultation with industry and community groups, UNICEF and the WHO, the Filipino Department of Health introduced strict regulations in order to implement the 1986 Milk Code. The new regulation includes a ban on the advertising and promotion of milk substitutes for children up to two years old, with an absolute ban on false health and nutritional claims. However, represented by PHAP, the milk companies, appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the new regulation to implement the Milk Code constituted a restraint on freedom of trade. As a result, the Supreme Court granted a temporary restraining order that is still in effect to date.

The Special Rapporteur reiterates his support to the Government’s stand in relation to the regulation to implement the Milk Code and counts on the wisdom of the Filipinos and international organizations to oppose the manipulative and deceptive tactics of milk companies who are guided by their interests and profits. He urges the companies to acknowledge their social corporate responsibility and to take all necessary measures to review their marketing practices related to breast milk substitutes. The Special Rapporteur also appeals to medical practitioners to abide by the ethical rules required by their profession.

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