Nope, not a contest for the Guiness book of world Records. A protest against Baby Formula.

The women, aged between 37 and 72, unbuttoned their blouses before the High Court office to reveal hand-painted slogans on their breasts like “Infant formula is dangerous” and “Yes to breastfeeding.”

Right now the big multinational food companies are in court fighting a ban on advertising formula for small babies.

Infant milk formula firms in the Philippines are violating a law that bars them from promoting their product as a substitute for breastfeeding, World Health Organization officials said Wednesday.

The government and the milk companies are currently battling it out in the Supreme Court over the legality of a law that restricts the marketing of infant formula in a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars….

In Asia, the Philippines and Palau both bar companies from marketing infant formula as a breast milk substitute for babies under the age of one….WHO regional director Shige­ru Omi said failure to breastfeed led to the deaths of 16,000 children in the Philippines each year…

The problem is not limited to the Philippines (we fought this thirty years ago in Africa). The problem is that breast milk has advantages:

Say you live in a town. You have running water, but it flows slowly, so you leave your tap open to collect water in a bucket so you can drink and wash and flush the commode. Usually the water is clean but not always.

In rural areas, this means going to the well or pump for the water. If you have a well, it’s probably a shallow well, so will contain germs from animal waste. Often it means getting water from a stream or irrigation ditch.

Giving a baby formula means washing your hands, sterilizing the water and bottles, mixing the boiled water with the powder, keeping the flies off the baby and powder,

To boil the water in town, you probably use propane (ten dollars a cannister). In the country, you probably use wood. More work for mom.

Once you have the milk, if baby doesn’t finish it, the bottle lies around until he is hungry…

City folk might have refrigerators, but country folk probably don’t, even if they have electricity. And even if you have electricity and a fridge, brownouts are common.
If the water is not boiled, if the milk sours, or if the bottle is not cleaned perfectly, you get germs.

In contrast, to breast feed, you open your blouse, pop the nipple in the kid, and voila, instant milk dispenser.

Germs cause diarrhea, the most common reason babies die in poor countries.

Since formula is expensive, often if you don’t have the money, you skimp on the powder, or give lots of rice to fill baby’s stomach up. This results in malnutrition, so babies are more likely to die of any sort of minor infection.

The quote above from that WHO (World Health Organization) official about 16000 babies ia year who die from formula doesn’t mean the formula was poison, but the estimate of how many of the children who died from diarrhea and/or malnutrition related illnesses would have lived if given clean breast milk.

Yet the advertisements for such milk formula show healthy babies and healthy mothers, implying that it is better for babies, (even if they include the two second reminder breast is best). And in a country where every poor person wants to be up to date and modern, flashy advertisements that promote the idea that bottle feeding is “modern” and breast feeding is only something for ignorant village women is a powerful message that is difficult to counteract with education.

As a result, only 15% of Filipina mothers breast feed for a year, and about 30 percent in Asia.

Now, there are reasons to bottle feed: mom has to work in a factory or office, mom lacks the ability to produce milk or is too sick to feed the baby. But for the majority of mothers and babies, this is the healthiest way to feed a small child.

Hence the protest to pressure the courts into keeping the ban against advertising formula for infants.

But there is another problem with milk right now: dumping damaged packages that may or may not be contaminated inside.

Manila – The Philippine government has ordered the US-based company Wyeth to pull millions of cans of infant milk products from market shelves because they had been contaminated during a storm last year, officials said Wednesday. The Bureau of Food and Drugs gave the recall order Tuesday after it verified consumer reports that some cans of Wyeth’s infant milk products developed rust and molds when they were exposed to moisture at a warehouse during a typhoon.

Bureau Deputy Director Joshua Ramos said up to 4.3 million cans of Wyeth milk products were contaminated and the company had already pulled out about 2 million cans before the recall order was issued.

Ah, another problem you don’t see with breast milk. Nipples rarely rust.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays on Hey Doc Xanga Blog

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