Regressive amendments on Monster Milk Code opposed

Originally posted at Regressive amendments on Milk Code opposed by Miraluna Tacadao

Yes, breastmilk is still best for babies.

This message was reiterated by the Department of Health (DOH) in the observance of National Breastfeeding Awareness last August, in the midst of proposals to amend the Milk Code of 1986 and the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009.

Entitled “Breastfeeding and Milk Regulation Act”, the draft consolidated House Bill is in substitution of House Bill Nos. 352535273396 and 3537 and was filed by Representatives Magtanggol Gunigundo, Josephine Lacson-Noel, Rufus Rodriguez, Anna York-Bondoc, Lani Mercado-Revilla, and Lucy Torres-Gomez.

In a joint statement, the DOH and its international partners, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed alarm over the new legislation that threatens to overturn existing laws that protects people from milk companies’ aggressive marketing, misleading advertisements, and unfounded claims.

Promotion of breastfeeding

In a timeline provided by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the Milk Code or Executive Order No. 51 was signed by then President Corazon C. Aquino in 1986 in a ceremony led by then Health Secretary Alran Bengzon.

EO 51 or the “National Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, Breastmilk Supplements and Other Related Products” is in accordance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Code aims to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants by the protection and promotion of breastfeeding and by ensuring the proper use of breastmilk substitutes and breastmilk supplements when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution.

With the distinct advantages that breastfeeding could benefit the infant and the mother, as well the health facilities like hospitals and maternity clinics, Republic Act 7600 or “The Rooming-In and Breastfeeding Act” was passed into law in 1992.

In 2009, to encourage breastfeeding among working mothers, the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (RA 10028) was passed. It entitled nursing employees to have lactation breaks to breastfeed or express milk in addition to the regular time-off for meals. The law also integrated Breastfeeding Education in the public education curriculum to encourage and promote the importance and benefits of breastfeeding. It also declared the month of August as the “Breastfeeding Awareness Month”.

Substantial changes

The adoption of Milk Code is recognized as a milestone in policy-making in promoting the wellness of infants and their mothers. However, it is feared that the draft house bill will create substantial changes on the current Milk Code, the Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009 and the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of both (EO 51 and RA 10028).

In a statement issued by Makabayan, a coalition of progressive party-lists in the Lower House, the passage of the proposed bill will make multinationals “gain bigger profits at the expense of the nutritional and health status of Filipino infants”.

If passed, the current amendments to the Milk Code would:

1. Confine the regulatory and penal functions of the Milk Code to artificial feeding products for the age group of 0 to 6 months, providing the milk industry with 10001% headway in marketing breast milk substitutes to children from beyond 6 months to 36 months old;

2. Promote the misconception that the introduction of complementary foods for infants beyond six months would make continued breast feeding unnecessary;

3. Open the door wide for multinational industries manufacturing and marketing breast milk substitute to interfere in the government function of formulation a comprehensive program in the promotion of breastfeeding;

4. Make the seemingly innocuous act of donating powdered milk and other breast milk substitutes, whether under normal or emergency conditions, a powerful avenue for multinational companies to market and advertise their products, allowing them to skirt the prohibition against marketing breast milk substitutes for newborn infants to young children 36 months old;

5. Excuse employers from paying working mothers’ lactation breaks (to breast feed or express breast milk);

6. Allow the multinational milk industry to unduly influence the public health care system via funded researches and publication of information and education materials, on the matter of breast feeding;

7. Insidiously allow samples of breast milk substitutes to be distributed in the health care system and access to health workers, by sales and marketing staff of milk companies;

8. Remove the mandatory use of Filipino on packaging of breast milk substitutes to explain the superiority of breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond;

9. Allow representatives of multinational milk companies to sit in the Inter-Agency Committee which has substantive powers in the implementation of the Milk Code, among which are the sanctions to be levied against companies manufacturing and marketing breast milk substitutes for violations of the Milk Code; and

10. Lower the sanctions of individuals or representatives of companies that manufacture or market breast milk substitutes who are to be penalized under the bill.

Opposing the “Milk Monster Bill”

Breastfeeding advocates had dubbed the draft bill as “Milk Monster Bill”.  According to Ines Fernandez, lead convener of the Save the Babies Coalition, the proposed bill undermines breastfeeding and indulges milk manufactures. The true intention is to water down the Milk Code.

In Senate, Senator Pia Cayetano, chairwoman of Committees on Health and Demography and Youth, Women and Family Relations, expressed her full support to breastfeeding advocates and wished to raise a red flag on pending measures  which she feel will do a lot of damage and reverse the progress we continue to strive for to promote the culture of breastfeeding.

“The measure could not be counted as pro-breastfeeding, pro-mother and pro-child because it diminishes the existing benefits that have already been accorded to mothers as breastfeeding mothers” she said.

At the Lower House, Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan vowed to thwart the proposal to amend the Milk Code. Ilagan said that this would weaken the campaign for breastfeeding and pave the way for increased milk substitute advertisements in the country.

“We are against it, this is in the guise of expanding the Milk Code but the move is backed by Nestle to water down the Milk Code provision that ensures rooming in and breastfeeding after birth. The expansion also aims to change provision banning advertising infant formula,” Ilagan said.

Meanwhile, minor triumph for breastfeeding advocates was earned after last Tuesday’s hearing of House joint committees on health and trade. Representatives Teddy Casino of Bayan Muna and GWP Representatives Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus formally signified their withdrawal of co-authorship to the bill. Together with other lawmakers, they succeeded to put the voting on hold to further debate on the provisions and to include other stakeholders in the discussion on the proposed amendments to the Milk Code.

MAKABAYAN Position Paper on Bills vs. Milk Code

Here is a copy of the draft substitute bill.

Draft Substitute bill on Breastfeeding as of July 09, 2012