Inez Fernandez, a staunch advocate of breastfeeding can still recall her group was placed on a defensive by media and public relations tactics when they questioned the claims made on milk advertisements on mainstream media and in the over-all packaging of dairy products last year.
With the Sanlu scandal in China, a tide of vindication seems to be cast on Fernandez and her colleagues from Arugaan, Philippine-based mother support group as well as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the World Alliance of Breastfeeding Action (WABA).
The melamine-contamination in formula milk has so far killed four babies and sickened 54,000 more babies in China, once more surfaces the irreplaceability of breastmilk Various countries have called for a recall and ban on Chinese milk and dairy products including the famous White Rabbit candy. Although China supplies a huge global market, large quantities of its powdered milk find their way to poorer countries in the South such as Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Gabon, and Yemen.
“Formula milk usually have pathogenic microorganisms. When these products are not properly prepared, it can induce illnesses. Besides the technology of sterilisation is not perfect and is not isolated in the milk itself but extends to [the gadgets that were used in the process],” Fernandez explained.
But Fernandez is far from satisfied with the publication of the tests made on Chinese milk. For her, Sanlu is just the tip of the iceberg while the workings of the bigger, more influential, mature, and North-based transnational companies remain submerged, shielded from the media glare and public scrutiny.
“There have been at least 200 recalls involving products of Nestle and Mead Johnson but these incidents have not been drummed up as the one in China. These companies are really targetting the Asian market because of the baby boom,” she asserted. From 2007-2008 alone, IBFAN have listed 19 recalls of milk and baby food products manufactured by Nestle, Hipp, Wyeth, and Heinz. She likewise criticised the milk companies false claims such as the presence of DHA and RHA in their formula milk. DHA and RHA are fatty acids that can be found in breast milk.
Fernandez also pointed out the appalling silence on the inappropriateness of powdered milk, which is often given as part of relief goods in times of disasters and calamities. Just two months ago, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) renewed its calls for donors not to include formula milk in humanitarian assistance since these cause diarrhea and even death particularly in contexts where people have limited access to water and sanitation facilities. “Very often the first aid you see arriving locally is formula. These donations are often uncontrolled,” Anne H. Vincent of UNICEF-Indonesia said.
In Asia, mother support groups are more established in Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. However much remains to be done in correcting popular perception, practices, and policies on formula milk and its related products, including food aid. “Debt of gratitude is so strong among Asians, that we could hardly refuse such food aid,” Fernandez lamented. She added that most doctors and nurses have not been taught the proper ways of breast-feeding, that instead of teaching mother ho to express milk, they prescribe immediately prescribe formula milk. Fernandez and her Asian colleagues are currently preparing case studies on breastfeeding in Indonesia, Thailand, East Timor and the Philippines.
Interview with Inez Fernandez (September 29, 2008)
Al Jazeera. (September 26, 2008). “Fears grow over china tainted milk.” URL: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2008/09/20089265466891263.html
British Broadcasting Corporation. (September 26. 2008). “China stops tainted sweet sales.” URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7637001.stm
IBFAN.(n.d.). “Product Recall List (2007-2008).” URL: http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/abm/paginas/articles/arch_art/85-24.pdf
______. (September 20, 2008). “The Sanlu Fiasco: Risks of Formula Feeding.” URL: http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/abm/paginas/articles/arch_art/560-1.pdf
Sabarini, Prodita. (July 7, 2008). “Formula milk 'dangerous' as humanitarian aid.” URL: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/07/07/formula-milk-039dangerous039-humanitarian-aid.html