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Stop Giving Public Funds to Infant Formula Exporters

Stop Giving Public Funds to Infant Formula Exporters says New Zealand academic.

The government should not be giving handouts to New Zealand companies exporting infant formula to China. They should not have been included in the government’s $2million dollar Market Connections Fund set up to assist the marketing activities of New Zealand dairy producers in the wake of the botulism scare.

That’s the view of University of Canterbury academic, David Small, after a research visit to China where he had meetings with UNICEF, Beijing Normal University and a number of Chinese community groups.

The rate of exclusive breastfeeding for Chinese babies under the age of 6 months is put at just 28%, one of the lowest in the world, and many working in the field believe it is even lower. Research has conclusively demonstrated that breastfeeding rates this low place the lives of babies in jeopardy, especially in countries without universal access to sanitation and clean water.

Speaking from Beijing, Dr Small said he was shocked to find Chinese parenting magazines full of formula ads featuring celebrity endorsements, scientists in lab coats peering into microscopes, doctors with stethoscopes, pictures of formula-fed “super babies”, and glossy photos of New Zealand’s green pastures and snow-capped mountains.

Dr Small said that efforts by the Chinese government, UNICEF, La Leche League and other agencies to promote breastfeeding have to contend with the entrenched influence of the formula companies, even within the medical profession. There is a long history of formula companies in China wining and dining medical personnel. New mothers are given formula in maternity hospitals and when they return home they get direct unsolicited phone calls from formula companies.

The extraordinary influence of companies with a vested interest in undermining breastfeeding is clearly endangering the health and well-being of Chinese babies and preventing Chinese mothers from making informed decisions about infant feeding.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act reveal that the only restrictions the NZ Ministry of Trade placed on formula companies’access to the Market Connections Fund were that they should not breach New Zealand or international law or breach World Health Organisation labeling guidelines.

In the context of China, Dr Small argues, they should not have been allowed access to the fund at all. There are plenty of ways for New Zealand companies to profitably export dairy products to China without compromising public health.


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