Nestlé's baby food webinar scrapped after outcry that it contravenes advertising regulations
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Cape Town - Food and beverage conglomerate Nestlé has cancelled an online talk after health experts warned that the company was flouting national regulations on foodstuffs for infants and young children by advertising foods for infants and toddlers.
Nestlé’s marketing webinar, “Free Stokvel Mom and Child Forum”, was expected to take place on August 14, but was cancelled because of mounting pressure.
The webinar claimed to provide information about infant and child nutrition. Civil society coalition Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) said advertising for the webinar “prominently featured three expensive, ultra-processed and sugary Nestlé products for infants and toddlers”.
Attendees also stood a chance of winning a R500 grocery store voucher.
Heala and nutrition experts said the advertising had violated the 2012 national regulations that “prohibited manufacturers or distributors of complementary food for infants and young children, such as Nestlé, from providing incentives, enticements or invitations that might encourage sales or promote these products”.
The regulations also prevent the “producing, distributing or presenting educational information related to infant and young children’s nutrition”.
Heala said it was unclear whether companies that flouted the regulations were made to pay any penalties, and the Advertising Standards Authority had a role to play in policing this, but it was unclear how it co-ordinated this with the health authorities.
Registered dietician and PhD candidate at the University of the Western Cape School of Public Health Catherin Pereira-Kotze said the advertising of the event was a clear violation of the regulations published in 2012 relating to foodstuffs for infants and young children in terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act.
“Regulation 7(5) of R991 prohibits the provision of education information related to infant and young child nutrition by a manufacturer. The event is billed as being about nutrition for infants and young children, and nowhere does it specify that they will be speaking about nutrition of children over the age of three years,” said Pereira-Kotze.
Two similar webinars took place in April and May.
“The danger is that a company such as Nestlé makes profits from selling its products, which include foods for infants and young children. Therefore, this creates a conflict of interest when they provide information on infant and young child feeding, or the introduction of solids, or ‘tips on growing their little ones’.”
During Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7, Affinity Health chief executive Murray Hewlett said: “Breast milk is the best source of nutrients for infants. It provides an ideal balance of vitamins, protein and fat, giving your baby everything they need to thrive. And it’s all in a form that’s easier to digest than infant formula.”
Nestlé (South Africa) corporate communications and public affairs director – East and Southern Africa region, Saint-Francis Tohlang, said the “Free Stokvel Mom and Child Forum” event was organised to create a platform to discuss general childhood developmental milestones, and the event was fully compliant with the 2012 Regulations Relating to Foodstuffs for Infants and Young Children.
Its brand ambassadors also intended to share details on the use of its feeding brands Nestlé Cerelac, Nestlé Nestum and Nestlé Nido 3+.
Tohlang said the vouchers were intended to drive event registrations, and the regulations allowed for the sale and promotion of complementary foods, such as the three products.
“Having considered the allegations shared in the media and following our correspondence with the national Department of Health, we decided to cancel the event. It is important to emphasise that we still maintain that the event would have been fully compliant with the 2012 Regulations Relating to Foodstuffs for Infants and Young Children,” said Tohlang.
“We cancelled the event because of the unfortunate perception by various stakeholders that the event is not supportive of exclusive breastfeeding, and that it sought to undermine the public health messages that promote exclusive breastfeeding of infants below the age of six months.