After Nestlé, Aptamil manufacturer Danone is now hit by breast milk scandal

Danone accused of misleading mothers and misrepresenting UN

The multi-national food giant Danone has been accused of misleading mothers with a marketing campaign that warned they might not be providing enough breast milk to their babies. The company suggested mothers use its powdered baby milk to make up any shortfall.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent found that Danone has been marketing its formula milk product Aptamil in Turkey by suggesting mothers with six-month old babies might not be providing enough of their own milk to meet their children’s needs. The episode has echoes of the baby milk controversies of the 1970s, which led to the international boycott of Nestlé, and illustrates the importance of emerging markets to Western multinationals. The campaign boosted infant formula sales in Turkey by at least 15 per cent and may have led to mothers moving their infants on to formula unnecessarily.

Danone says it based its advice on WHO guidance, and claims that both the WHO and the UN agency Unicef endorsed the campaign. But the WHO has demanded that Danone stop using its name and logo while Unicef has denied endorsing the company’s actions.

“Danone’s campaign is misleading,” said Dr Colin Michie, chairman of the British Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s nutrition committee. “There is not enough evidence to support its approach.” He added: “Mothers who follow Danone’s advice could end up moving their babies on to formula milk unnecessarily.”

Danone insisted that the campaign was aimed at discouraging “inappropriate” substitutions for milk such as rice flour, rather than “competing with breast milk”.

“Turkish Unicef and the WHO, together with other partners (the Ministry of Health, TV stations, supermarkets, Paediatric Association) supported this campaign, with the WHO allowing its logo to be used on printed materials,” it told the Bureau. The campaign had increased mothers’ estimation of the amount of breast milk fed to their babies by 63 per cent, it added.

Danone – best known in the UK for Actimel and Activia and Cow & Gate formula milk – began its Turkish marketing campaign in 2010.

The company identified the infant nutrition market in Turkey – with a population of 73 million, a relatively high birth rate and salaries on the rise – as one with major potential. But traditionally Turkey had high rates of breastfeeding – and no tradition of using formula milk.

In 2009 Numil, Danone’s baby nutrition arm in Turkey, enlisted 577 paediatricians to measure the breast-milk production of mothers of children aged six months. The doctors used breast pumps  or weighed the babies before and after feeding to get their results.

They found the mothers were producing an average of 290ml per day, although the findings have not been peer reviewed. The company then attempted to calculate a figure for the amount of breast milk a mother should be providing their child.

Numil took a WHO bulletin, which referred to an independent research paper on the energy children need to get from complementary food after six months of age. The paper was not designed to prove how much breast milk a child needs, and the resulting figure is not recognised as a recommendation for a breastfeeding child by international authorities.

Danone then launched a marketing campaign to promote the 500ml figure – which it inaccurately claimed was a WHO recommendation – with the slogan, “Half a litre every day”.

The message was promoted on TV, online and in supermarkets. One television ad stated: “Your baby needs at least 500ml milk per day. If your breast milk is not enough, give Aptamil formula to support your baby’s immune system.”

Supplementing with formula can reduce breast-milk flow. Unicef says there are several ways mothers can increase their breast-milk supply, such as expressing milk between feeds.

At the same time, Danone publicised an online test it had developed so mothers could check if they were providing 500ml. The test asks mothers questions about the frequency and duration of breastfeeding. Thousands of women have filled it in – and according to Danone, most have so far been given the result that they are not providing 500ml. The advice to those who are deemed to be providing less than 500ml is to use formula.

But experts have questioned both the 500ml figure and recommending it to parents. Dr Helen Crawley, director of First Steps Nutrition Trust, said estimates of how much milk meets infant requirements are needed in case a child has to be fed with expressed breast milk or formula.

“This is not the same as making a recommendation to mothers about volumes of breast milk,” she said. “The relatively high exclusive breastfeeding rates in Turkey may be undermined by any campaign which suggests a volume that may sound unachievable.”

Dr Gonca Yilmaz, director of one of the biggest paediatric units in Turkey, also condemned the campaign. “The health benefits of breast milk are enormous and mothers must not be pressured into buying formula based on inaccurate advice,” she said.

Both the WHO and Unicef have denied endorsing the campaign. The WHO said Danone did not have permission to use its logo and has written to the company asking it to remove its name within 14 days.

Dr Ayman Abulaban, the Unicef representative for Turkey, has also written to the company. “The Unicef Turkey office has not endorsed this campaign,” he wrote. “We kindly ask you to remove the Unicef name from your campaign materials.”

The Turkish Ministry of Health was not available for comment, but in a statement to Danone it said: “We are pleased that Numil is supporting the ministry in the promotion of correct infant feeding patterns, to encourage and increase breastfeeding rates as well as reduce inappropriate feeding.”

Sour milk: The Neslé scandal

Boycotts of Nestlé breast milk substitutes spread from Minneapolis to Europe in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were triggered by the Swiss firm’s alleged “aggressive marketing” of instant formula in the Third World.

Campaigners claimed the products led to the suffering and deaths of children because parents mixed the powder with water that was often contaminated.

In 1981, the World Health Organisation approved the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, to protect breastfeeding and to ensure breast milk substitutes were used safely where they were necessary.

Nestlé has always denied the allegations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links