Claire Brisset, Fighting the dried-milk multinationals: The bottle that kills
One and a half million newborn babies die every year from the wrong kind of feeding. Despite the risks, and an international code designed to stamp out abusive commercial practices, the dried-milk companies continue to use their powers of persuasion to get women to give up breast-feeding and buy their products. Particularly in the third world, where this is frequently an issue of life and death.
In the 1860s, in a Germany not yet united under the iron rule of Bismarck, a chemist from Frankfurt perfected what looked like a promising product: a mixture of flour and dehydrated cow’s milk for feeding babies. His name was Henri Nestl�.
It was a time when factories were springing up throughout northern Europe and many women, eager to work, had to give up breast-feeding and entrust their babies to nurses. Could Nestl� have predicted the huge international success of his work? He had made an essential discovery which was intended, to herald a giant step forward in human nutrition.
This is the story of a misguided discovery. In 1867, when Henri Nestl� wrote, in all good faith, that the powder manufactured under scientifically correct conditions constituted a food that leaves nothing to be desired, he could hardly have thought that his discovery would eventually be harmful to children. Or that a century later, in 1974, campaigners would write a pamphlet headed Nestl� kills babies. And surely he never imagined that at the end of the 20th century the firm that bears his name (together with other large companies) would be accused of not respecting the ethics and elementary rules of infant nutrition.
But that is what is happening. It follows the recent publication in London of a document entitled Cracking the Code (1), which contains shocking data compiled over the last few years about the commercial approach of the large multinationals to infant nutrition, in contempt of the International Code on Marketing Breastmilk Su