With baby food companies flouting laws, the Centre has asked the States to prohibit offers made by them
Tightening the noose around baby food manufacturing companies promoting their products by unfair means, the Centre has asked the States to prohibit all educational and health institutions from availing any offers from these companies.
Further, strict action may be taken against the organisers of such programmes as well those attending these functions, according to a directive issued to the State governments by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, asking them to take immediate steps to ensure that the practice of breastfeeding is protected in the interest of the healthy growth of the children.
According to Section 9 (2) of the Infant Milk Substitute, Feeding Bottles and Infants Foods (Regulation of production, supply and distribution) Act, 1992 “no producer, supplier or distributor shall offer or give any contribution or pecuniary benefit to a health worker or any association of health workers, including funding of seminar, meeting, conferences, educational courses, contest, fellowship, research work or sponsorship.
“As per this section, an order could also be issued to authorise Class-1 officer of your State to monitor the compliance of IMS Act in each district who can make a complaint in writing to the court. Food and Drug Control Authority could also be involved in the process. The health, agriculture, and education departments may be directed to regularly monitor such conferences to examine if these violate the spirit IMS Act,'' the directive said. It would be a real step in protecting and promoting breastfeeding which is crucial for healthy growth and development of infants in the country.
“We have received communications from various organisations like Indian Academy of Paediatrics and Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India regarding companies like Nestle have been flouting the IMS Act directly or indirectly by creating research institutes and foundations which organise scientific seminars and arrange all-expenses paid trips for medical practitioners to their factories and also for conferences abroad,” the letter said, adding that it was necessary to comply to this provision in spirit.
The letter said that the Ministry had recently come across several instances of violation of the IMS Act by Nestle India Ltd through its front organisation named Nestle Nutrition Institute organising seminars and workshops with participation of paediatricians, medical practitioners and agriculture universities in various cities of India. Organisation of seminars and sponsoring trips by infant food manufacturing companies contravenes Section 9 (2) of the IMS Act, it says.
Way back in August 2010, Union Secretaries for Women and Child Development and Health and Family Welfare had sent a similar directive to the States drawing their attention to the instances of baby food manufacturers through their own research/education or other front organisations indulging in sponsoring doctors, meetings or even hosting these meetings. One manufacturer had even set up a library in a medical college, while another had approached paediatricians and provided gifts and distributed infant feeding booklets with misleading information on infant feeding. These booklets were also printed in regional languages and distributed in hospitals in West Bengal.