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MANILA, Philippines -- A group of breastfeeding advocates said they would hold Health Secretary Enrique Ona accountable for violating the Milk Code if he allows infant formula makers to donate their products to victims of the flooding in Metro Manila and outlying regions recently.
Ines Fernandez, executive director of Arugaan, said the DOH should never partner with the milk industry because doing so would violate the provisions of the revised implementing rules and regulations of the Milk Code, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2007.
“He (Ona) should be (held accountable) for that, for fighting for the interest of multinational companies,” Fernandez told Interaksyon in a telephone interview.
Earlier, Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag told reporters the milk industry has signified its interest to donate products for flood victims who remain in evacuation centers.
Tayag said although the DOH is aware that milk companies are prohibited from donating their own products, the department’s Milk Code committee would still discuss this and come out with guidelines.
Fernandez said allowing infant formula makers to donate their products would provide the industry with a marketing opportunity that might undermine efforts to promote breastfeeding, especially among poor Filipino mothers.
“Isa itong patibong para ma-hook ang mga bata sa produkto nila. Bakit sila magdo-donate? Ngayon libre pero sa susunod na supply may bayad na (This is a trap to hook the young to their products. Why would they donate? For now, it will be free, but next time you have to pay),” she said. ]
Tayag earlier said the DOH may consider donations if these are unmarked.
“Whether gatas ‘yan or hindi, it’s a no (markings). Titingnan namin ang sitwasyon. Papa’no if supply is low, ‘di kami makabili agad? Pero may restrictions ‘yun, example unmarked, walang indication na sa kanila galing (Whether it’s milk or not, that’s a no. We are looking it the situation. What if the supply is low and we cannot make purchases right away? But there are restrictions, example unmarked, no indication it came from them),” he explained.
But Fernandez said there is no need for infant formula at evacuation centers because breastfeeding mothers can share their milk with the children of other mothers.
Interaksyon sought the reaction of the milk industry through the Infant and Pediatric Nutrition Association of the Philippines, which is composed of multinational companies Abbott, Fonterra, Mead Johnson, Neslté, and Wyeth.
But in an email, Alex Castro, IPNAP’s executive director, gave confusing replies when asked to confirm if the industry indeed offered donations to the DOH.
“No, we only work with the DOH,” was Castro’s initial reply.
When pressed to confirm, Castro said, “To avoid confusion, let’s wait until we hear officially from the DOH.”
He added that the industry is “open to help flood victims following existing DOH guidelines.”
Meanwhile, Fernandez accused the milk industry of trying to make a comeback after its sales allegedly dipped 30 percent when the RIRR of the Milk Code was implemented in 2007. The law prohibits infant formula donations and stops healthcare providers from receiving perks from milk companies.
Various sectors, including international agencies such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, blame aggressive marketing of infant formula for the low breastfeeding rate in the Philippines before the RIRR’s implementation.
“These donations would only legitimize their involvement with government,” she said.
According to Fernandez, the industry spends an estimated P42 billion annually for advertising mainly using big showbiz personalities to promote their products.