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Nation

Lifting of ban on infant formula ads a blow to breast-feeding advocates

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MANILA (AP) - The Philippine Supreme Court lifted a year-old ban on infant formula ads that critics say promote bottle-feeding over breastmilk, in a victory for multinational milk companies, officials said Wednesday.

The Health Department, backed by the U.N. children's agency, has proposed regulations to strengthen the Philippine national milk code, which already bans formula companies from advertising products made for babies less than a year old.

Breast-feeding advocates argue the ads are deceptive because they allegedly promote artificial baby food as being as good as breast-feeding. Milk companies say their formula products merely offer an alternative for women who cannot breast-feed.

The Supreme Court last year imposed a temporary ban on the stiffer rules after the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, which includes major milk producers, argued that only Congress has the power to change the regulations.

During oral arguments in June, the attorney for the association, Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo, told the court that the Health Department went beyond its authority.

She said U.S.-based formula makers Wyeth, Mead Johnson Nutritionals and Abbott Laboratories, along with British-based GlaxoSmithKline, would lose about US$208 million (?148 million) if they were forced to change labels and destroy milk products already in circulation if a Health Department proposal to ban advertisements for formula made for children aged up to 2 years was approved.

And she argued the advertising ban deprived women of information that would allow them to freely choose whether to use formula.

The court said Tuesday that while it recognized that breast milk was best for infants, it could not curtail formula ads because of freedom of speech. It said the Health Department can regulate but cannot ban the advertising and promotion of breast milk substitutes.

"It ought to be self-evident ... that the advertisement of such products which are strictly informative cuts too deep on free speech," Chief Justice Reynato Puno said.

Health officials did not comment immediately, but newspapers quoted Undersecretary Alex Padilla as saying the government would consider appealing. UNICEF said it would issue a statement later Wednesday.

The World Health Organization recommends mothers breast-feed exclusively for the first six months and continue providing breast milk along with complementary foods until age 2.

Research has shown that babies given breast milk develop fewer respiratory and intestinal diseases, and those given formula have a greater chance of developing asthma or allergies, along with obesity. WHO estimates up to 1.45 million children die annually in poor countries because of low breast-feeding rates.

vuukle comment

BREAST

CHIEF JUSTICE REYNATO PUNO

FELICITAS AQUINO-ARROYO

FORMULA

HEALTH DEPARTMENT

MEAD JOHNSON NUTRITIONALS AND ABBOTT LABORATORIES

MILK

PHARMACEUTICAL AND HEALTHCARE ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT

SUPREME COURT

UNDERSECRETARY ALEX PADILLA

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