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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee