Gov’t Failing to Implement Fake Milk Law

Baby formula manufacturers are flouting a sub-decree that bans promotions of formula in stores and health-care facilities, the World Health Organization, Unicef and three NGOs said in a statement Wednesday.

According to the statement, 41 percent of stores selling breast milk substitutes in Phnom Penh had in-store promotions for the products, which is banned by Sub-Decree 133.

One third of mothers who recently delivered a child reported seeing advertisements for milk substitutes in health care facilities, which is also prohibited, the statement said.

“This causes confusion between marketing techniques and medical advice, and can mislead parents and caregivers about the effects of breast milk substitutes versus breast milk,” the groups wrote.

They also called on the government to improve its enforcement of Sub-Decree 133, issued in 2005 to protect and promote breastfeeding by prohibiting commercial misinformation about baby formula, which is generally not as healthy for newborns and infants as breast milk.

“The main issue is through advertising where nobody is being informed properly,” said Suong Soksophea, advocacy adviser for Save The Children in Cambodia, which also signed the statement.

“There is not enough information regarding how to best raise a newborn. In the shops it says that it’s fine but this is not necessarily true—it’s very concerning.”

Brands are currently breaking the law “by giving free samples, promoting the product in shops through leaflets, posters, billboards,” Unicef’s chief of communication, Denise Shepherd-Johnson, said in an email.

However, although the statement said that violations of Sub-Decree 133 risked compromising progress toward reducing child malnutrition and mortality, both Ms. Soksophea and Ms. Shepherd-Johnson declined to name the companies breaking the law.

“The aim of the report was to inform,” Ms. Soksophea said. “We didn’t specify any of the companies, but wanted to highlight an overall issue so people will start discussing it.”

The Ministry of Health could not be reached for comment.

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