Nestlé loses ASA battle

Nestlé is to appeal against a highly embarrassing judgment which effectively throws out its advertising claims to be an ethical and responsible marketer of baby milk.

Nestlé is to appeal against a highly embarrassing judgment which effectively throws out its advertising claims to be an ethical and responsible marketer of baby milk.

For more than 20 years, the company has been dogged by accusations surrounding its provision and marketing of infant formula in developing countries.

After one of the longest investigations in its history, the Advertising Standards Authority council has upheld complaints about a Nestlé press ad, which aimed to reassure consumers over its marketing of infant formula in developing countries.

Pressure groups such as Baby Milk Action Рwhich made one of the complaints about the ad Рhave long campaigned for consumers to boycott Nestl̩ products. It says that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.5 million babies could be saved every year if the decline in breastfeeding was reversed.

The ad, which appeared in the Oxford Independent newspaper in 1996, claimed that “Even before the WHO International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes was introduced in 1981, Nestlé marketed infant formula ethically and responsibly, and has done so ever since.”

The ASA ruled that Nestlé could not adequately support this claim and that it “went too far”.

Another claim in the ad that “Naturally they (Nestlé employees) do not provide free supplies to hospitals for use with healthy infants” was also ruled unacceptable because, according to the ASA, it implied this practice ended “a very long time” ago. But the food company admitted giving free supplies to South Africa until October 1992, Thailand until July 1988, Bangladesh until January 1993, and to hospitals in China as recently as April 1994.

Nestlé was warned last month not to repeat three of the claims made in the ad, but before the ASA could publish the ruling in its report this month, Nestlé lodged an appeal. It will now be up to ASA chairman Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank to decide whether or not there are grounds for an appeal.

A Nestlé spokeswoman says: “We were surprised that in view of the embargo Baby Milk Action should have circulated the full adjudication, which is subject to an appeal to the chairman of the ASA. We understand the ASA has not made a decision on this complaint.”

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