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Undermining law, breastfeeding? Businesses 'using' celebrities to promote baby food

By Rajiv Shah 

A report prepared by the top child welfare NGO, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), has identified as many as 15 offenders allegedly violating the Indian baby food law, the Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992, and Amendment Act 2003 (IMS Act), stating, compliance with the law “seems to be dwindling by the day.”
Launching its report on the occasion of the World Breastfeeding Protection Day, 21st May, BPNI says, “As media, especially social media, gains its strength over the years, there is unrelenting promotion of the products under the scope of this law. Celebrities have joined the businesses to promote baby foods, which are not only ultra-processed food products and mostly high in sugar which makes it inherently harmful and they end up displacing the precious protector the mother’s milk.”
Noting that “undermining breastfeeding and complementary feeding through commercial influence also violates child’s right to life and health and mother’s right to breastfeed”, BPNI claims, its findings “are similar to what was said in the Parliament in 1992 while the Bill was introduced”, adding, “Also this report confirms WHO’s observations in their report on marketing of baby formulas.”
Sold on various online shopping platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart, with advertisements appearing on social media, especially Instagram and YouTube, the BPNI report identifies 15 products which the BPNI identifies for allegedly violating the law. These are:
(1) Slurrp Farm’s Sprouted Ragi Powder infant food, whose advertisement offers discount using “Mom Approved” words, “violating” section 3(a), 4(c) and 6(2) (c) and rule 8 of the IMS Act that prohibits advertisement, featuring infant, any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product and maternalised terms.
(2) Philips Avent 260ml Natural Feeding Bottle With 125ml Natural Feeding Bottle, which offers discount, “violating” section 4(c) of the IMS Act that prohibits any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(3) HappaOrganic, Fruit Puree (Apple+Mango) Stage 2, 3 Pouches, 100 gram each, which advertises the infant food product featuring an infant and offers discount on a combo pack, “violating” section 3(a) and 4 (c) respectively of the IMS Act that prohibits any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(4) Slurrp Farm Multigrain Cereals Trial Pack Combo 300g (50g*6), which “violates” the law by offering discount on combo infant food violating section 4 (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(5) NAN PRO (Stage 3) Infant Milk Substitute by Nestle, which offers discount on infant milk substitute “violating” section 4 (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(6) Nature's Precious Gift Soy Milk Powder (100 g, Up to 6 Months), which offers discount on infant milk substitute “violating” section 4 (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(7) Nestle Lactogen 2, which offers discount on infant milk substitute “violating” section 4 (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(8) Baby Forest Ayurveda, whose advertisement featuring celebrity Meera Kapoor “violates” section 3 (a), (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits advertisement of infant feeding bottle and taking part in its promotion respectively.
(9) Slurrpfarm, whose advertisment offers discount on various infant food products for little ones featuring celebrity Anushka Sharma and an infant “violating” section 3 (a),( c) and 4(c) of the IMS Act that prohibits advertisement of infant foods, taking part in its promotion, featuring an infant and any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(10) Enfamil A for 8+ months which shows on YouTube a mother influencer promoting infant milk substitute on her channel with 11.2 million followers “violating” section 3(c) and 8(3) that prohibits taking part in infant milk substitute promotion and demonstrating feeding of infant milk promotion other than a health worker.
(11) Num NumBaby Foods Platform, whose product features a baby dinosaur and alligator cartoon “violating” the Section 6 (2) (b) of the labelling provision that prohibits use of pictures or other graphic material or phrases designed to increase the salability of the product.
(12) Bebe Burp, which offers the infant food mixes for little ones for 6+ months, featuring an infant on the front of pack of the label, “violating” Section 6 (2) (b) that prohibits having pictures or other graphic material or phrases designed to increase the salability of the product. It also “violates” section 3(a) that prohibits advertisement of any infant food.
(13) Organic Formula Shop India’s HiPP infant milk substitute, whose advertisement and discount offer “violate” section 3 (a) and 4 (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits advertisement of infant milk substitutes and infant food and any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
(14) Mother Nurture, whose advertisement featuring a child of the fruit puree infant foodproducts for 4+ and 6 months offers discount “violates” section 3 (c) and 4 (c)of the IMS Act that prohibits advertisement of infant food and any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product. “This product label also undermines the definition of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months by recommending starting the Banana Fanana product at 4+ months”, the report says.
(15) Evermaa, whose advertising features a mother and an infant with offer of discount and free chocolate milkshake worth Rs 450 on buying a combo pack, “violating” section 3 (a) (c) and 4 (c) of the IMS Act that prohibits advertisement of infant foods and any kind of inducement to increase the salability of the product.
According to BPNI, “No one is stopping anyone from manufacturing. But the law is very clear as it prohibits any kind of promotion of the food products or feeding bottles for children under the age of 24 months. It is defined as: Promotion means to employ directly or indirectly any method of encouraging any person to purchase or use infant milk substitute, feeding bottle or infant food.”
BPNI, introducing the report, quotes Section 3 (c) of the law as stating, “No person shall take part in the promotion of infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles or infant foods”, adding, the Indian law also prohibits “direct contact with any pregnant woman or the mother of an infant; inducement of any other kind, for the purpose of promoting the use or sale of infant milk substitutes or feeding bottles or infant foods.”
Says Dr Arun Gupta, central coordinator, BPNI, “India has one of the strongest possible legislations, and its people have benefitted from it. I would urge the Government of India to investigate through appropriate agencies or appoint a special prosecutor, on these company practices alleged to be violating the national which is a cognizable offence”.
According to BPNI, “Non-stop promotion continues even after 32 years of the established law, and new players are emerging and promoting their food products aggressively in India in violation of this law”, regretting, “Newer tactics include involvement of celebrities, influencers mothers, mother bloggers on Instagram and YouTube. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are also infringing the law and liable to be penalized.”
“Mothers do fall prey to their misinformation and profit driven tactics and the celebrities have huge public influence”, underlines Nupur Bidla, national coordinator, BPNI, adding, “Social media is the new generation promotion playground of the baby food, bottle and equipment industry; therefore, it needs to be monitored and notified diligently”.
Admits Dr Gupta, what appears in the report is is “a tip of the iceberg, findings of few concerned people”, insisting, “A comprehensive assessment is needed every year. Government may consider commissioning a report and allocate funds for this work. Government may launch an investigation as per law into alleged violations through appropriate mechanisms and prosecution if required.”
Suggesting that these products seem to be indirectly undermining breastfeeding, the report says, “Breastfeeding offers a multitude of benefits for both infants and mothers. It supports the infant's immune system, as breast milk is rich in antibodies, enzymes, and white blood cells that help protect against infections and illnesses.”
It continues, “Breastfeeding promotes the healthy development of the baby's digestive system, reducing the risk of gastrointestinal issues and constipation. It’s also reduces the risk of diarrhea and pneumonia in infants significantly. Studies have shown that breastfeeding is associated with improved cognitive development in infants.”
According to th report, “Despite having the health, cognitive, economical and environmental benefits the current rates of initiation of breastfeeding is 41.8%, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is 63.7% and complementary feeding is 45.9% (National Family Health Survey 5: 2019-21)”, suggesting “concerns for baby and child health.”
Pointing towards “harmful long-term health impacts of intake of ultra-processed foods and added sugars”, the report says, “Infant milk substitutes/ formulas themselves are ultra-processed food by definition, often including vegetable oils, lactose and other added sugars, minerals, and additives as well as powdered milk proteins.”
Noting that the world’s top five formula manufacturers across the world are NestlĂ©, Danone, Abbott, RFC, and RBMJ, with four of these five firms operating in more than 100 nations, the report adds, “The world's largest manufacturer of infant formula, NestlĂ©, was subjected to extensive legal proceedings in Switzerland decades ago.”
According to the report, “There is evidence by WHO that clearly demonstrate that these businesses are concentrating on expansion in low- and middle-income nations, particularly through the growing-up formula”.
It adds, “WHO has now come up evidence that establishes that the infant and toddler food industry has managed to sustain and even increase sales both globally and in low- and middle-income countries, despite this code and the explicit scientific evidence demonstrating the negative effects of increased consumption of ultra-processed foods.”
The report claims, “None other than BPNI, which is a non-profit, and has been reporting violations of the IMS Act. Some recently emerging local brands in the Indian market are also cleverly trying to manipulate the labelling rules of the IMS Act and need to be monitored and educated so that mothers and babies do not fall prey to their misinformation and profit driven tactics.”
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Images: Screenshots from the BPNI report

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