GENEVA (Reuters) - The world's leading baby milk companies still flout a global code on marketing breast milk substitute, a campaign group said on Thursday, the eve of the 30th anniversary of its adoption.
Nestle and Danone, respectively the number one and number two baby milk distributors, were the worst offenders, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) said in its latest biennial report.
"Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules 2010" accuses 11 major companies of violating the code through marketing techniques that can mislead mothers into thinking their products can improve a child's wellbeing.
"The biggest problem now is the use of claims," said Annelies Allain, a director for IBFAN in Malaysia, citing suggestions formula milk could improve health and intelligence.
IBFAN said it would keep up the pressure on Swiss-based Nestle with an ongoing boycott, but has for now decided against calling on consumers to shun Danone's products.
" ... in response to this report, Danone has said actions it will put in place will account for 50 percent of the violations in the report," Mike Brady, campaigns coordinator in Britain for IBFAN, told a Geneva news briefing.
He said Nestle had said it would address four out of 134 allegations of a breach of the code.
Danone did not wish to comment on the allegations that it was in breach of the code more than 100 times.
A Nestle spokesman disagreed with IBFAN's interpretation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions.
"Obviously, we take these allegations very seriously as we take any allegations concerning the code," said Nestle spokesman Robin Tickle.
"We fundamentally disagree with their (IBFAN's) interpretation of the code. However, there are four allegations where we feel there is some justification and we have invited them to discuss this."
IBFAN said the trend was to use seductive marketing as companies compete in a market estimated to be worth $31 billion.
"Companies are competing with breastfeeding and if breastfeeding rates increase, their sales decline," Brady said.
He said the major baby milk manufacturers "got away with" code breaches when they could and countries such as Brazil where it is tightly enforced had seen a big increase in breastfeeding.
Brady cited research that found only one in two Brazilian women breastfed until the second or third month in 1975, but by 1999 one out of two breast-fed for 10 months.
The IBFAN report is based on the findings of independent monitors from 46 countries.
The World Health Organisation, a U.N. agency, endorses the code and recommends exclusive breastfeeding of babies for six months and for two years with complementary foods.
(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Alison Williams)