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Baby food giants mislead mothers about breastfeeding: NGO

New Delhi: Putting profit before an infant`s health, many baby food giants promote supplementary baby food, mislead mothers, undermine breastfeeding and natural foods, an NGO said Wednesday.

"Putting profits before children`s health, baby food giants like Nestle, Heinz and Abott woo mothers to give their supplementary food through the label on the container and various websites from four months which is unhealthy and unscientific as it can lead to health risks, including diarrhoea," Arun Gupta, co-ordinator of the NGO, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), and member of the Prime Minister`s Council on India`s Nutrition Challenges said.

BPNI said Nestle Nutrition Institute is continuing to organise doctors` meetings despite objections from the government.

Heinz asks new mothers to give cereal food "Oat and Apple" to more than four-month baby through container label and various websites.

Abbott claims brain development and promotes a product `Similac advance infant formula stage 1" for babies up to six months and "Similac infant formula stage one" for zero to six months babies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that artificial feeding is an established risk factor for child`s health, causing diarrhoea, respiratory or newborn infections, allergies as well as obesity and adult health diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

"While attending a workshop during my pregnancy days on labour and delivery organised by my hospital, I was surprised to see promotion of baby feeding products. Such promotions, particularly through web and at hospital settings, affect the choice of young parents and influence them to adopt artificial feeding, harmful for babies," Institute of Home Economics (Delhi University) assistant professor Yuki Azad said.

"In a country like India where clean drinking water is not available, a bottle-fed baby is more likely to die of diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections than breastfeed babies. Why on earth government of India should allow this?" asked Azad.

BPNI also asked the government to strictly enforce the IMS Act (Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution Act, 1992) and Amendment Act, 2003.

"There should be `zero tolerance` for misleading mothers in the interest of children`s health and survival and the government should ensure that such violations end," BPNI national coordinator J.P. Dadhich said.

The IMS Act bans all kinds of baby food and feeding bottle promotion, including advertisements, inducements on sales, pecuniary benefits to doctors or their associations, including sponsorship, commission to salesmen, and prescribe labelling requirements for babies aged zero to two years.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. It`s high time that government puts effective enforcement machinery in place to monitor and implement IMS Act right at the district and state levels," Gupta said.