Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertising and Promotion) Bill

A Bill was published this week by Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central (SNP).  First presented to the House of Commons on 16 November 2016, a second reading was scheduled for Friday 24 February, but has now been postponed to 24 March 2017.

The draft Bill is based on a number of serious factual errors and assumptions. In particular, in the mistaken belief that the formula milk industry is either self-regulated or not regulated at all, it aims to establish an agency (the ‘Infant and Young Child Nutrition Agency’) to set, monitor and evaluate compositional, safety and quality standards, labelling, and nutritional claims in formula milks for babies and young children.

Such an agency would be a duplication of the existing law however.  Formula milks are amongst the most strictly regulated of all foodstuffs (Regulation EU No 2016/127; EU Directive 2006/141/EC). The EU also strictly regulates levels of any pesticides, contaminants and micro-organisms, along with packaging. It is completely erroneous to suggest that formula milk is unsafe. All manufacturers are required to ensure that their food products are safe in accordance with General Food Law and standards are in many respects even tighter for formula milk. The nutritional content of infant formula and follow-on formula is laid down in the Regulation: this is based on the expert opinion of European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientists. All ingredients used in formula milk must be proven safe, and undergo rigorous clinical testing. 

The allegation that there is no independent verification of formula composition at present is untrue. The nutritional content of formula is clearly stated on the label and is monitored by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Trading Standards. New or reformulated infant formulas must be notified to the Department of Health who review the labelling and substantiation for any new ingredients. Both the FSA and Trading Standards are involved in enforcing the legislation.

Any nutrition and health ‘claims’ are strictly controlled by EU legislation [Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006; EC Directive 2006/141/EC] and must be approved by EFSA or its predecessors, the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF). Enforcement is carried out by Trading Standards. All claims made by formula milk companies are fully substantiated; nothing is published that is not fully supported by evidence. For healthcare professionals, all information must be scientific and factual as required by Article 14 of Directive 2006/141/EC.[1]

Legislation also governs the marketing and sales aspects of formula milk, and incorporates the principles and aims of the WHO Code on Breastmilk Substitutes; this legislation is also strictly enforced. All product claims used in labelling and advertising must be approved by EFSA, and enforcement is carried out by Trading Standards. Regulations prohibit the advertising to the public of infant formula for babies 0 to 6 months of age: this is because this is the only formula milk intended for use as a breastmilk substitute.

It should also be noted that:

  • Advertising is already controlled by legislation. Infant formula cannot be advertised
  • The Advertising Standards Authority ensures that any other advertising is appropriate
  • Penalties for any breaches of the legislation already include imprisonment for company executives 

We will be reviewing the Bill in detail over coming days and will publish a response in due course.

[1] For infant formula, those in Directive 2006/141; for follow-on formula, those now authorised by EFSA and introduced into legislation by the European Commission.