Code Anniversary—How Far We’ve Come?

Last March in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I received a LINE message calling to “stock up on infant formula in case there will be a formula milk shortage.” It was a commercial message from a pharmacy that I shopped at during my short visit to Taiwan back in 2019 and they have collected my family’s information just like that. I was totally surprised.

Or maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised—according to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), a growing breastmilk substitutes industry and ongoing emergencies is a real concern to the current global scenario with slow progress in improving breastfeeding rates.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions. However, in the past one year, we’ve seen more cases of infant formula companies failing to adhere to the Code amid the pandemic:

A screenshot from Facebook of Colosbaby advertisement in Vietnam features the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General headshot with a caption at the top, “WHO raises COVID-19 threat warning to its highest level.” “The world is entering a decisive moment when coronavirus disease is spreading more rapidly” appeared like a quote from him. Next to the products were captions “Colosbaby boost immune system” and “prevent respiratory and digestive infections caused by viruses and bacteria.”


A screen shot from the China Children and Teenager Fund’s website of Mead Johnson’s campaign with the caption “Conquer virus for love to protect new lives.” Image on the right shows items in donation packets, including formula milk for mothers.

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In Los Angeles, a county supervisor’s office has been distributing formula milk without infant feeding education and support, which is banned by the Code because this kind of “charity” not only undermines breastfeeding but also targets our most marginalized communities with massive formula distribution.

These are just three of the countless violations which contribute to poor nutrition and, in many cases, preventable deaths in infants and young children. On the 40th anniversary of the Code, we need to urge every country to improve implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the Code.

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