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Abeja gets M.A.D. -- She's Making a Difference

The cry of a newborn baby fills the room in a rural African clinic. The baby is cleaned and handed to its mother. Soon, she's given a bottle of infant formula by the nurse. The mother is happy, knowing that she's getting medical attention and her baby is being fed in the most modern way. This milk must be better for her baby than breast milk, right? Why else would the nurse give it to her?

The mother gratefully accepts a free gift of the infant formula and goes back to her village with her new child. Soon the baby is hungry, so mom takes the formula and mixes it with some water from the well. The instructions are written in a language that she can't understand, even if she knew how to read, so she only puts in a little bit. It will last longer that way, anyway.

Soon, the baby has diarrhea, and is becoming sicker and sicker. After a day or two, the formula runs out, too. The mother knows that she can't afford more, or maybe she just has to wait until someone in the family goes to town to buy it, so she figures a little breast milk can't hurt. But when she tries to nurse her baby, there is no milk there! By the time she makes it back to the clinic, her baby is very sick, or even dead.

What a horrible story! Unfortunately, similar stories have happened thousands, or perhaps millions of times here in Africa. What happened?

The fact is that no infant formula on the market today can compete with breast milk, which is not only more nutritious, but also aids in the development of the child's immune system. Water sources in much of rural Africa, and the world, are contaminated with water borne illnesses. It doesn't bother the mother, whose immune system is strong and accustomed to the water, but it makes the baby very sick. When the mother tries to go back to breastfeeding, she finds that her milk has already dried up because it wasn't being used.

WHO and UNESCO recommend that babies be exclusively breast fed for the first four months and up to 6 months if possible. There are occasional cases in which a mother can't breastfeed and infant formulas are needed, but they are not common. UNICEF states that in areas with unsafe water, a bottle-fed baby is 25 times more likely to die from diarrhea than a breastfed one, and it is estimated that reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants every year.

With all these problems with infant formulas, why on earth would the clinic give it to the mother? Well, the clinic got lots of free samples by the nice people at Nestlé, who tell them of all the benefits of infant formulas-they're easier than breastfeeding for the hospital staff AND they let the mother go back to work sooner. Some health care workers and pharmacists were even given gifts and money for promoting Nestlé baby foods and infant formulas.

In response to this unethical marketing, the World Health Organization (WHO) enacted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. It states that baby milk substitutes should not be advertised or given away as samples in hospitals and clinics. It also states that in non-English speaking countries, labels must be in the local language. In India, the government has legislated that products must display a notice in English and Hindi to the effect that "breast milk is best."

Unfortunately, companies, like Nestlé, know that breastfeeding means a loss in profit, even though it means saving lives. Nestlé has been caught several times in violation of the WHO's code, most recently this year in a four-country research commissioned by the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM) called "Cracking the Code." At first Nestlé denied the report, but in light of more findings, the company has only said, "We take this report very seriously." In India, Nestlé faces criminal charges and it is campaigning against legislation to regulate baby food in India, the Philippines, Ghana, Pakistan, Uganda and Europe.

Looking at this information can make you feel pretty helpless, but there are things you can do. The simplest thing is actually a conscious act of NOT doing-not buying Nestlé products. By joining the international boycott against Nestlé and other products owned by them, you hit them where it hurts most--in their pocketbooks. If they behave unethically in order to make more money, maybe they'll behave more ethically if they are threatened financially. If they don't, maybe they'll be forced out of business all together. That is the power that YOU have. Think about it, the money they earn selling baby formula to poor women as compared to the money they make selling candy, coffee, and other food items in wealthier countries. It's important, too, that you write to them and let them know that you are boycotting them, and why.

The next step is spreading the word. Do your parents know about Nestlé? What about your school? And while you're at it, why not pass out leaflets in front of the local supermarket or arrange a teach-in for your community? Click here for a list of things you can do in your community: Baby Milk Action.

Below is a sample letter to Nestlé and a list of products that are owned by the Nestlé Corporation in America. Did you know that Nestlé, which is actually based in Switzerland, claims to be The World's Largest Food Company? Everyone knows things like Nescafe and Nestlé crunch bars, but you'll notice on the list below things like Baby Ruth and Butterfinger, L'Oreal beauty products, and Calistoga Spring water! So don't get mad, get busy!

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is the CEO of Nestlé. Write and let him know what you think of his company's behavior. The address is:

    Peter Brabeck-Letmathe
    Nestlé SA
    Avenue Nestlé
    1800 Vevey

You can use the following sample letter as a guide...
Dear Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe,

I am writing to inform you that I will boycott Nescafé until independent evidence shows that Nestlé complies fully with the letter and the spirit of the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

I know that promoting baby milk to mothers undermines breastfeeding by hindering the establishment of the mother's own milk. This puts babies in poor conditions at a greater risk of diarrhea, malnutrition and death. Even in wealthy countries it denies mothers and babies the best start in life.

I know that you are aware of these risks and have the capacity to inform and refuse misguided health workers who request free or subsidized supplies of your milk. In 1984, Nestlé promised to abide by the International Code and to comply with future WHO/UNICEF clarifications on the distribution of free and subsidized supplies of baby milk. However, when the World Health Assembly provided such clarification in 1986, stating that such supplies should not go to hospitals and maternity wards, you chose to renege on your promise. I also know that your other promotional tactics and misleading information to mothers and health workers undermine breastfeeding and present your milk as an acceptable alternative, persuading many to favor bottle feeding.

I will continue to support the Campaign Against Nestlé and to inform others until you end your irresponsible practices.

Yours sincerely,

You may want to write a shorter version of this and send it to the Nestlé web site, which has a section calling for comments which you can fill out.

Things owned by Nestlé in US/Canada

Confectionery: Laura Secord, Chunky Goobers, Coffee Crisp, Aero, Baci, Quality Street, Nestlé Beich fundraising chocolate, Kit Kat, Smarties, After Eight, Baby Ruth, Bit O Honey, Butterfinger, Alpine White Chocolate, Crunch, Raisinats, Black Magic, Turtles, Mirage, Smarties; Rolo, Life Savers, Milky Bar; Milo Bar, Scorched Almonds, Oddfellows, Mackintosh's Toffees, Kool mints, Raspberry Twists, Soothers and Vita C, Barley Sugars, Black Knight, Granny's licorice, Pixie Caramel, Chokito, Chocolate Raisins/Peanuts, Nut Roll, Crunch, Marshmellows, Party Mix, Pineapple Chunks, Strawberry Hearts and Choc Orange Slices, Nutoata bars, Canterbury Oaty bars.

Dairy products: Ice cream -- Laura Secord, Crunch, Drumstick, Mr Big, Haagen Dazs ice-cream bars; Yoplait yogurt. Mineral Water: Perrier, Vittel, Poland Spring, Koala.

Processed food: Stouffers, Buitoni, Contadina, Cresse & Blackwell, Maggi, MJBLean Cuisine, Buitoni pasta and sauces, Nanda pasta, Crosse & Blackwell relishes/pickles.

Cooking products: Nestlé baking cocoa, Nestlé cooking chocolate, Chocolate Melts, Choc Bits, Milk Melts, Highlander condensed milk, Reduced Cream, Quick Custard Mix.

Cosmetics/Eye Care: L'Oreal, Lancome, Warner, Alcon Wines: Beringer, Chateau Souverain, Los Hermanos, Napa Ridge.

Pet food: Friskies, Go Cat, Cat Meow, Fancy Feast, Tux, Trusty.

Nestlé has marketing agreements in North America with Nabisco, Walt Disney, Movenpick, Ault Foods (Sealtest Dairies) and Coca Cola (Nestea).

For more information on infant formulas and more ways you can help support the Nestlé boycott and educate others, check out these websites:

Baby Milk Action

Nestlé boycott page

Information page on the Nestlé Boycott

Infact Campaign for Corporate Accontability

Nestlé products to boycott

Nestlé Boycott Update

For more information, please contact:

    Third World Network
    228, Macalister Road
    10400 Penang, MALAYSIA
    Tel: (+604)2293511,2293612 & 2293713
    Fax: (+604)2298106 & 2264505


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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