Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes

SSUE – Canada does not enforce the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes. An original letter was sent to Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau. Her office responded that we should contact the Minister of Status of Women. The Minister of Status of Women responded that we should contact the Health Minister. So here is our letter to the Health Minister … waiting for a response!

January 12, 2017

Honorable Jane Philpott;

Thank you for announcing the recent changes to Canada’s healthy eating guidelines, including food labelling changes and restrictions on food marketing to children. These are great steps towards improving the health of all Canadians. As the mother of three, Dietitian specializing in pediatrics and co-chair of the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group, the health of women and children in particular are close to my heart. Specifically, I am passionate about breastfeeding advocacy.

Canada could strengthen new guidelines around reduced marketing to children, by including enforcement of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code). While infant formula is not marketed directly towards babies, it is heavily and unethically marketed to parents. This marketing decreases breastfeeding rates, harming the health of mothers, children and therefore the entire country. The purpose of the Code is to protect ALL babies through breastfeeding support and the proper and safe use of breast-milk substitutes and stopping their inappropriate marketing.  Countries with this legislation and enforcement of the Code have higher breastfeeding rates.

One goal of the World Health Organizations (WHO) Global Nutrition Targets for 2025 is to: “Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life up to at least 50%.” Ninety eight percent of Canadian women initiate breastfeeding. However, this drops to about 50% by three months of age and by six months, just 15% are exclusively breastfed, falling far short of WHO’s goal.

Evidence shows that almost all mothers are able to breastfeed, and will be able to meet their goals with support and accurate information. So why are mothers falling short in meeting their goals? Partially because formula industry marketing practices cause mothers to question the quality of their milk and their ability to make milk. Ultimately, formula marketing dis-empowers women. It’s too easy to reach for the multiple free cans of formula in their pantry received in the mail during pregnancy. Or perhaps the mom was sent home with formula from the hospital, which likely receives funding and free formula for distributing one brand. Enforcing the Code is required to eliminate this marketing of breast-milk substitutes to both mothers and the health care system.

From the Joint statement by the UN Special Report: “…providing the support and protection necessary for women to make informed decisions concerning the optimal nutrition for their infants and young children is a core human rights obligation.”  Besides being a human rights issue, helping mothers reach their breastfeeding goals is important to the health not only of the child, but the whole of Canadian society.  Decreasing marketing of artificial milk will strengthen the physical health of babies (i.e. decreased risk of necrotizing entrocolitis, SIDS, leukemia etc.) AND mothers (i.e. decreased risk of postpartum depression, breast and ovarian cancers). I would encourage you to help strengthening the enforcement and legislation related to the Code in Canada. I would be happy to participate in a discussion on how Canada could do this, and would be thrilled to receive a response.


Jennifer House MSc, RD

Enc: Joint statement by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food, Right to Health, the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in law and in practice, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in support of increased efforts to promote, support and protect breast-feeding

Available here:

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