HEALA slams Nestlé for formula advertising violations

HEALA takes aim at Nestle for formula advertising violations
Advocacy group, HEALA, has accused Nestle of valuing profits over children's health with their advertising of powdered drinks for growing children. (Photo: Freepik)

The advocacy group, Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), has set up a campaign warning the public of Nestle’s “blatant disregard” for child health.

It claims the food giants have violated Regulation 991 relating to foodstuffs for infants and young children with their NIDO 3+ powdered milk product.

What is R991?

The #SayNoToNido campaign comes as a response to Nestlé’s Nido +3 #Childhoodmoments Masterclass which was hosted on Facebook on 30 July, two days before World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). Heala said after failing to get the event cancelled on social media, the campaign was their way to try and get Nestlé’s attention. It also wanted to raise public awareness of the violation of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act or R991, which relates to foodstuffs for infants and young children.

R991 under sales and promotions prohibits any promotional practice or device advertising of infant formula, follow-up formula and infant or follow-up formula for special dietary or medical purposes among others, that the Minister may publish by notice in the Gazette. 

HEALA’s Nutrition Programme Manager, Angelika Grimbeek explained further.

“Nestle has many Nido products that start from Nido Stage 1+ for toddlers from 1-3 years old (a follow-up formula listed in 7(1)) so although NIDO 3+ is out of the scope of the R991, the cross-promotion or advertising of the brand name of Nido is not allowed,” she said. 

Infant formula producers target social media users

Grimbeek told Health-e that the Nido +3 Facebook event was also a blatant disregard of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) study which found that infant formula producers were using inappropriate tactics. They include paid social media platforms and influencers to gain access to pregnant women and mothers. 

The WHO reported that the $55 billion global formula milk industry was targeting new mothers with personalised social media content that is not often recognised as advertising. This was done through apps, virtual support groups or baby clubs, paid social media influencers, promotions and competitions, and advice forums or services. With at least 90 posts per day on their social media accounts, 229 million users were reached daily.

The #ChildhoodMoments masterclass has been viewed by 434 Facebook users. 

Breastfeeding efforts undermined

HEALA has recognised these repetitive tactics of undermining efforts to protect and support breastfeeding being employed by Nestlé. It said the Facebook session was also planned to coincide with WBW. 

The organisation further stated that the formula industry was exploiting vulnerable mothers who sometimes relied on the Child Support Grant (CSG) of R480 by using strategies that undermine their confidence and mislead them into trusting it (formula industry).

Grimbeek said: “Violating this regulation and continuously marketing their products causes fewer children to be breastfed. It also promotes the introduction of a child’s first taste of ultra-processed foods and is unethical, especially in a country where many mothers have to stretch resources.”

Nestlé responds

Saint-Francis Tohlang, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs Director for East & Southern Africa Region at Nestlé, said the global company supported various programmes that were aimed at promoting breastfeeding.

The WHO recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months was one of these programmes. As well as the introduction of adequate nutritious complementary foods along with sustained breastfeeding up to two years of age and beyond.

“We comply with the WHO Code and World Health Assembly resolutions as a minimum. Furthermore, we comply with SA Regulations 7(1)(b) of The Regulations Relating To Foodstuffs For Infants And Young Children (R991),” explained Tohlang.

On top of this, Nestlé had a robust compliance system which Tohlang said was why the company was one of the top two companies in the Access to Nutrition Initiative Breastmilk Substitute and Complementary Foods Index since its creation in 2016 and has been included in the FTSE4Good Index since 2011.

According to the company, the information shared at the Nido+3 Masterclass was not related to products covered under the requirements of R991. Nido+3 was also not a breastmilk substitute.

“We use differentiating communication and messaging, including suffixes for products, to demonstrate the product’s intended age range and appropriate use,” Tohlang added.

Strengthening regulations

Department of Health spokesperson Foster Mohale, said the department was working on strengthening R991 to address gaps that companies were taking advantage of through cross-promotion.

Mohale explained that when the regulations were published in 2012, there were no formula products for children above the age of three.

Although the department had acted against companies that violated the regulations, these were not court actions.

“The practice has been that once the violation has been reported, the company or person who has violated the regulations is contacted and asked to rectify whatever violation has been committed,” he said.

Mohale added: “Usually, the violators comply hence no one/company has ever been taken to court. If the company or person continues to repeat the same or commit any other violation, the department will take legal action.”

Public members are also encouraged to report R991 violations by sending an email to codewatch@health.gov.za. – Health-e News



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