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Fighting Cross-Marketing of “Follow-up” Milks

Families often do not know the difference between infant formula and toddler milks. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), advertising and promotion of toddler or follow-up milks is a way to circumvent the protections provided by the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (International Code).

These toddler or follow-up milks are often labelled nearly identically to infant formula intended for infants birth – six months, but are in some countries not subject to the same marketing restrictions.

According to the World Health Organization: “Products that function as breastmilk substitutes should not be promoted. A breastmilk substitute should be understood to include any milks . . . that are specifically marketed for feeding infants and young children up to the age of 36 months (including follow-up formula and growing-up milks).” 

These are just two of the reasons why ILCA volunteer Maryse Arendt attended the Codex meeting in Dusseldorf, Germany, where follow-up formulas, cross-promotion, and the International Code were being discussed.

Following the six day meeting, Maryse reported that important progress was made following significant discussions, negotiations, and compromises. As ILCA’s representative to Codex, she worked alongside the handful of other lactation-supportive NGO and breastfeeding-friendly country representatives. 

Codex Alimentarius is a set of internationally recognized standards and guidelines for food, food production, and food safety. Since 1963, Codex has existed to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in international food trade.

Progress at Codex often happens in small steps and over multiple years of effort and negotiation. Previously, the Codex standard defined follow-on milks as not being breastmilk substitutes. This is significant as it allowed formula companies to label follow-on milks in similar packaging (often in stages, such stage 1, 2, and 3) and then market the toddler drinks without the protections of the International Code.

The new Codex draft under discussion now names the product a “drink for young children” or a “drink for young children with added nutrients,” without requiring it to be exempted from the International Code. This is important because countries that are already or want to define the product as a breastmilk substitute can do so, without threat of violations of World Trade Organization agreements. The text has still to undergo different Codex steps before being final in 2022.

Up next: a discussion to include a reference to the International Code and WHA resolutions in the preamble, which was deferred to next year. The United States was the biggest opponent to strengthening references to the Code in Codex.

Thank you to Maryse for your significant efforts. 

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