Pressure group lays into ASA and Ofcom

Ofcom is embroiled in a row with Baby Milk Action (BMA), after the lobby group threatened to take the regulator to court over its persistent rejection of complaints about advertising for infant formula.

BMA says that it is particularly incensed over the response to its complaints against sponsorship by Heinz-owned Farley’s of Discovery Health Channel’s Baby Talk series last September. BMA complained to Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) saying that for most consumers the sponsorship will be associated with formula milk, and hence illegal.

BMA claims that Ofcom responded by saying that the pack shown in the sponsor credits was not for infant formula, while the ASA says that its remit does not cover television sponsorship.

BMA has sought legal advice about taking both Ofcom and the ASA to court.

The Government’s official position is to support breastfeeding up to the age of six months, and it is illegal in the UK to advertise formula milk for babies aged under six months directly to consumers. However, advertising for follow-on milk for older babies and toddlers is allowed. BMA argues that much advertising ostensibly for follow-on milk is really intended to sell the same brands’ infant formula products.

Mike Brady of BMA says that the group is considering seeking a judicial review to establish whether Ofcom’s refusal to investigate its complaints was lawful. He says: “Ofcom seems to be complicit in defending the interests of the baby food industry, rather than infant health.”

BMA is the UK co-ordinator for the 28-year-old boycott of Nestlé over allegations that the Swiss food giant continues to flout the World Health Organisation’s regulations on marketing breast-milk substitutes in the Third World, and for similar action against other baby milk manufacturers.

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