Thank you to Maria Parlapiano, RN, IBCLC for this guest post.
For decades, Nestlé Corporation has hidden behind a vale of creamy, luscious chocolate. Perceived by Americans as harmless, Nestlé has its sticky fingers in almost everything from bottled water to dog food. In the US, Nestlé owns Gerber and Beechnut brands. Now, with their recent purchase of Pfizer’s Infant Nutrition Division, they rain supreme as the largest purveyor of infant formula and baby food in the world.
On February 11th, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ accepted a $100,000.00 check from Marilyn Knox, CEO, of Nestlé Nutrition USA, as a “benevolent” offer to partner with him to fight his city’s childhood obesity problem.
As a maternal/child health specialist, nurse, and lactation consultant, red flags (or should I say candy wrappers) flew up all over the place when I heard this! Not Nestlé! One of the largest contributors to worldwide obesity is sponsoring a nutrition program targeted at reducing childhood obesity? Surely, Mayor Booker is ill-informed, I thought. Obviously, no one told him about Nestlé’s appalling reputation or the studies that show formula, bottle feeding and early introduction of solid foods actually increase childhood obesity!
As a matter of fact, it was clear to me that Mayor Booker and these poor Newark families (25% below the poverty level) were just being used as a “front” for the largest coup in US formula industry history.
So, after failed attempts to meet with Mayor Booker, I created the petition, “Stop Newark /Nestlé Now!” on February 16, in an attempt to stop this hypocritical partnership.
The following information is to inform, educate and compel into action those who care deeply about the oppression of mothers and the future of children all over the world.
Let’s start with this statement from Dr JP Dadhich, National Coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India,
“Breastfeeding plays a key role not only in infancy but also in shaping the future of the child. Exposure to infant formula during this vital period may in fact increase chances of obesity later in childhood. The risk increases as the beneficial effects of breastmilk that prevent obesity are replaced with the detrimental effects of infant formula.”
I, and those who support this petition, believe that Nestlé sponsorship of this anti-obesity campaign is just the latest Nestlé marketing tactic to divert attention from these very chilling facts:
- Nestlé has a well-deserved, notorious reputation for aggressive and unethical marketing placing them among the top four most boycotted companies on the planet!
- Gerber formula is milk from a cow, laden with addictive high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, oils and chemical additives, which are directly linked to obesity in infants. Formula-fed infants ingest 30,000 more calories/year than their breastfed counter parts.
- Nestle’s baby foods are processed and packaged with cost in mind, not quality.
- Nestlé spends $4 million each year lobbying against regulation and taxation of unhealthy food. This manipulation enables them to continue manufacturing and marketing junk and confectionary foods that have resulted in increasing world obesity rates.
- Formula feeding is linked to diabetes as well as many other diseases resulting in increased health care costs, energy usage, production, transport, pollution and waste. Furthermore, it costs about $200 a month to formula feed one baby. That is 14% of the per capita income of the average Newark families. Some parents will over dilute the formula or substitute other fluids, such as coffee creamers, which leads to even further illness, poor development and death.
- The Surgeon General’s 2011 Call to Action For Breastfeeding Report called for “all women to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months” and states “full-term infants have a 32% excess risk of childhood obesity associated with not breastfeeding.” Action 6 (from her report) states: “ensure that the marketing of infant formula is conducted in a way that minimizes its negative impact on exclusive breastfeeding.” (We have had NO REPLIES to our pleas for help from the Surgeon General.)
- The First Lady, Michelle Obama breastfed her 2 daughters and is a staunch supporter of breastfeeding. Her campaign, “Let’s Move” to target childhood obesity is being corrupted by Nestlé and Mayor Booker. (We have as yet had no replies to our pleas for help from the First Lady.)
- The Mayor is violating NJ Conflict of Interest Laws, the City of Newark Children’s Bill of Rights and the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Furthermore, the Mayor is violating the Code of Ethics he signed when he entered the ”World Mayor” competition
- Nestlé is setting themselves up as “The expert nutrition educators” in the US and throughout the world. In the US, they have already partnered with the AAP, USDA. The Governor Of Michigan has given Nestlé the go-ahead to “educate” in medical schools, hospitals and communities. Also, Nestlé is has posted jobs dedicated to converting Federal WIC programs to their Gerber brand formula.
Nestle’ has sales of $30 billion a year in North America alone. Peter Brabeck-Letmath, head of Nestlé S.A. said,
“companies should only pursue charitable endeavors with an underlying intention of making money for investors.”
Then the question is, how is Nestlé benefiting its investors by linking its name to this initiative?
Well, let’s see. When I questioned Mayor Booker (on his radio show, Newark Today) about this partnership with Nestlé he responded, ”There are no strings attached” but Nestlé’s true agenda is quite apparent. When the Mayor was filmed accepting Nestlé’s check of $100,000.00, he was standing in front of a background covered with Nestlé/Gerber logos and the Nestlé’s press release had pop-up ads for formula, coupons, rebates, Baby Club etc. (direct violation Action 6: Surgeon General’s Report)
Obvious benefit to Nestlé, right?
The Newark/Nestlé partnership to reduce childhood obesity is a ”New Pilot Program.” Nestlé strategically plans to take to other US cities and states. Nestlé’s Infant Nutrition President and CEO Marilyn Knox stated on a YouTube channel press release,
“We want to recognize Mayor Booker specifically for not only what he is doing here, but the example of taking Newark and turning it into actually an example, a role model to replicate in other places …”
So, New Jersey will carry the legacy of being the first state that’s opened the castle gates for the wooden Trojan horse!
Nestlé’s plan is to provide their own “nutritionists” to “educate” about breastfeeding and nutrition (push Nestlé products). Slated to start this month, they plan to set up peer counselor programs (using the clients to market Nestlé products), hand out gifts and samples “luring” the mothers in and making them dependant on Nestlé products, at all 15 of the Family Success Centers in Newark.
In the posted job description for the “Nestlé-Newark Now Family Nutritionist” there was no mention, at all, of breastfeeding. Nestlé spokesperson has said their “nutritionists” will be promoting and supporting breastfeeding (which is cheaper and healthier), but trust me, in reality, formula feeding will be the focal point of instruction. Nestlé “nutritionists” will say they are endorsing the use of home-made, whole, fresh foods for babies which are less expensive and more nourishing but in fact, they will promote Nestlé prepackaged, processed baby foods, first and foremost.
How do I know this? That’s easy. Nestlé is a known violator of the WHO Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes. They do what they want and “thumb their nose” at anyone who dares to confront them.
New York Mayor Bloomberg announced, April 19, 2012 (NY Post), that he has launched the WHO / UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a program to support and encourage women to breastfeed. Mayor Bloomberg states, “There is a 22% reduced risk for childhood obesity when women breastfeed for 6 months.”
Yet, just across the Hudson River, in Newark, the opposite is set to occur–less breastfeeding, higher rates of obesity in the hands of Nestlé.
Initially, Mayor Booker was given materials about the importance of breastfeeding (to help prevent obesity, other health issues, health care costs etc.) and information about Nestlé’s true motive for partnering. The Mayor was offered creative alternatives that could help women successfully breastfeed and thereby decrease childhood obesity and other health issues. The Mayor has received every signature and every comment on the petition and many letters but he has shown no sign of cancelling his partnership with Nestlé. He has not responded to any correspondence and has refused all requests for meetings.
As of today, more than 2000 people have signed from more than 50 countries and hundreds of people have left negative comments about Nestlé on the petition site. All International Organizations, under WHO and UNICEF’s direction to protect breastfeeding from commercial pressures to artificially feed babiesincluding IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network), WABA, (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action), BMA (Baby Milk Action, UK) and IBFAN Switzerlandhave signed and written letters asking the Mayor to cancel his partnership. There has been worldwide outcry for Newark to stop this partnership but, unfortunately, it has fallen on deaf ears.
Some excuse the Mayor by saying Newark is desperate for money. Poor, desperate cities are easy prey for a pariah like Nestlé. But should desperation for money trump common sense and good judgment? As citizens, we expect due diligence and responsible decision making from public officials. We expect our children’s best interest to be placed above all else and our voices to be heard, not ignored.
Mayor Booker posted on his Facebook page,
“A child being born right now, today, is depending on us to liberate their potential, and ensure that they enjoy America as truly a land of equal opportunity.”
In response to that statement, I challenge Mayor Booker: How can that ”child being born today” depend on someone who blatantly disregards this plea on their behalf? Haven’t we learned that it is more difficult to liberate a child’s potential when their nutritional/emotional start in life is substandard or damaged?
How can children who have been placed at such a disadvantage grow to enjoy America as truly a land of equal opportunity? They can’t.
Maria Parlapiano, RN, IBCLC
Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the Content Manager for Mothering.com. Mothering is the birthplace of natural family living and attachment parenting. We celebrate the experience of parenthood as worthy of one’s best efforts and are at once fierce advocates for children and gentle supporters of parents.