WHO expresses alarm over bill on breastfeeding in the Philippines

The Department of Health (DOH) and international partners the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today jointly expressed alarm over a new legislation that threatens to overturn existing law that protects people from milk companies’ aggressive marketing, misleading advertisements, and unfounded claims.

The proposed bill will substantially change the contents of the current Milk Code of 1986 (Executive Order No. 51), the Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009 (Republic Act No. 10028), and the Revised Implementing Rules & Regulations of both.

“The draft House Bill is inappropriately named and aims to support multinational companies while damaging the Filipino society: families, the mothers and children,” the joint statement said.

The draft consolidated House Bill (HB) is entitled, “An Act Promoting a Comprehensive Program on Breastfeeding Practices and regulating the Trade, Marketing and promotions of Certain Foods for Infants and Children.” The draft bill is in substitution of HB Nos. 3525, 3527, 3396, and 3537 and was filed by Representatives M. Gunigundo, J. Lacson-Noel, R. Rodriguez, A. Bondoc, L. Mercado-Revilla, and L. Torres.

The salient features of the new bill are: narrowing the application of the Milk Code only to artificial feeding products, such as formula milk, for the 0 to 6 months instead of the current 0 to 36 months; lifting all restrictions on donations of breastmilk substitutes during disasters and emergencies, even on normal conditions; making lactation breaks for working mothers unpaid; allowing samples of breastmilk substitutes to be distributed in health care facilities; allowing access to health workers by sales and marketing staff of milk companies; and allowing these companies to conduct or be involved in breastfeeding, infant and young child healthcare and nutrition activities and materials.

The joint statement also said that breastfeeding saves lives. An estimated 8,400 lives could be saved every year if every Philippine family with infants and small children would practice optimal breastfeeding.

The statement also said that breastfeeding prevents a growing list of illnesses such as neonatal sepsis (a blood infection of newborns), diarrhea, pneumonia, necrotizing enterocolitis (a life-threatening problem of the gut of pre-term babies, ear infections, skin allergies, sudden infant death syndrome, childhood asthma, diabetes (type 1), and childhood obesity.

“The DOH, WHO, & UNICEF call on legislators and the public to understand how devastating the passage of the consolidated bill will be. Delayed action may turn the Philippines backwards while neighboring countries in the region are passing stricter regulations on marketing. New legislation should reduce gaps, not enlarge them. Do not allow industry profits to overpower the health of children,” the statement concluded.

Share