Swiss food giant Nestle is coming under fire for misleading consumers using nutritional claims regarding its infant formulas.
A report by the Dutch group Changing Markets Foundation and Globalization Monitor that investigated the way Nestle markets infant formula around the world found that their health claims regarding nutrition and ingredients were based on marketing strategies rather than scientific evidence. They reached their conclusion after studying more than 70 Nestle baby milk product across 40 countries.
The firm often boasts of its commitment to science, but the report accuses them of manipulating people’s emotional responses to sell their products.
It’s no secret that most mothers want the very best for their children, and the hormones associated with childbirth kick new mothers into protective overdrive. It’s an emotional time compounded in many cases by a lack of sleep and difficulty navigating a new status quo, so many women are vulnerable during this time to marketing tactics that play on their desire to be a “good mother.”
In particular, Nestle has been contradictory in its health claims across different markets. Labels on their products in Hong Kong and Brazil, for example, advise parents not to give infants sucrose, while their infant milks in South Africa contain this ingredient. The European Food Safety Authority is also against using sucrose, as they say it can cause vomiting and failure to thrive.
Similarly, they marketed some of their infant milks in Hong Kong as being healthier because they don’t contain added vanilla flavorings, but the same flavorings are present in other products they sell in South Africa and China.
Changing Markets Foundation’s Campaigns Director, Nusa Urbancic, told The Guardian: “If the science is clear that an ingredient is safe and beneficial for babies then such ingredients should be in all products. If an ingredient is not healthy, such as sucrose, then it should be in no products. Nestlé’s inconsistency on this point calls into serious question whether it is committed to science, as it professes to be.”
“Closest to breastmilk” claims banned by WHO
In addition, the report takes issue with Nestle using phrases like “closest to breastmilk” in its marketing. The EFSA advises against using these words, and the WHO marketing code strictly forbids comparing infant milk products to breastmilk in any way because many of the substances found in breastmilk cannot be engineered. The phrase was also used by the company arbitrarily across products with different formulations, making it clear that its use was purely as a marketing tool.
This is extremely misleading as breastmilk is a personalized form of nourishment that is constantly adapted according to the baby’s needs and contains live substances like immune compounds and antibodies that cannot be replicated in a laboratory.
The report is calling on Nestle to review its products. The company is the global market leader when it comes to infant milk products, enjoying nearly a quarter of the market share. The authors would also like to see tight global standards when it comes to infant milk.
Nestle has long been criticized for its marketing practices when it comes to baby milk products. In the 1970s, it was accused of discouraging mothers from breastfeeding, particularly in developing countries, despite it being not only healthier but also cheaper than formula. One group boycotted Nestle for seven years over their stance.
Being unable to provide a baby with breastmilk can be very disheartening for new mothers, and the last thing these women need is to have multinational corporations exploiting their vulnerability with deceptive marketing practices that could compromise their babies’ health.
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