20 September 2012

Formula a threat to infant nutrition

The "aggressive marketing" of milk formula in South Africa is undermining the nutrition of infants and young children.

The "aggressive marketing" of milk formula in South Africa is undermining the nutrition of infants and young children, members of Parliament's health portfolio committee heard.

"Currently, we have a challenge on our hands in terms of the erosion of breast-feeding in our communities," health department acting director for nutrition Gilbert Tshitaudzi told MPs.

One of the reasons for this was "the aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes - in this case, formula - by the industry". This undermined "mothers, pregnant women, infants and young children in terms of getting adequate nutrition", he said.

Regulations to limit promotion of formula

The committee was being briefed on draft regulations aimed at plugging gaps in the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act.

Tshitaudzi said the new regulations would "limit the unnecessary promotion of infant formula by health workers and also by industry".

The department had been speaking to the industry over a number of years.

"But what has happened over the years, is that because of all the loopholes in the legislation governing breast milk substitutes, this has resulted in violations by certain companies in South Africa." He did not name the companies.

The department had a responsibility to ensure "the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children", including the protection, promotion and support of breast-feeding.

"The aggressive marketing erodes... breast-feeding," Tshitaudzi said.

According to a document tabled at the briefing, the new regulations will, among other things, "limit the unnecessary promotion of infant formula by health workers, thus strengthening health outcomes for South African women and children".

The draft regulations had been published for public comment.

The document notes there were "major concerns" from manufacturers about the draft regulations.

These concerns included a "perceived violation of constitutional rights" and the "legality of the regulations". There was also a "perceived conflict with the Consumer Protection Act".

MPs expressed concern about the proposed regulations, saying they needed further study.

(Sapa, September 2012)

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