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jemjabella is a Nestle Free Zone

 |  Parenting

When I was in school, my drama teacher told the class a story about women in Africa who’d been given Nestle formula milk samples shortly after they’d had a baby. They used the samples, believing that formula was superior to their breast milk, which led to their milk drying up. Because their milk had dried up, they were then forced to buy formula they couldn’t really afford, which led to extended gaps between feeds and preparing bottles of the formula milk excessively watered down to make it last longer. In worse case scenarios, babies died either of starvation, malnutrition from receiving inadequate proteins, fats etc (caused by watered down milk) or of improperly prepared bottles1.

Out of ignorance, and because I grew up in a pro-breastfeeding family, I assumed that these women were simply stupid for believing that their breast milk was inferior, and promptly went out and bought a KitKat.

10 years later, I’m a grown adult; sat nursing my own child I come across this image:

woman breastfeeding male twin, girl bottlefed
Pakistani woman breastfeeding her son, bottle-feeding girl; picture taken by UNICEF

Unless you’ve seen this image before, it may shock you to realise that these babies are twins. The mother was told that she would not be able to sustain both babies at the breast, and so breastfed the male twin and had her grandmother bottlefeed the female.

The little girl died the day after the picture was taken.

In reality, it’s perfectly feasible to sustain two babies at the breast. It’s possible to feed three or more, even. Breast milk is produced on demand: i.e. the more a baby feeds, or the more babies feed, the more production increases and the more milk is made (except in some rare cases).

After seeing this image, I bought The Politics of Breastfeeding so that I could learn the true extent of the issues with artificial feeding in undeveloped countries. As it turns out, the women affected by the free formula samples weren’t stupid (ah, teenage ignorance)… they were misled.

Misled by Nestlé, primarily; misled by Nestlé saleswomen dressed as nurses telling new mums that Nestle artificial formula milks were the superior infant food; misled by health care professionals who were given kickbacks and bribes for encouraging mums to bottlefeed; misled by labels on cans of formula claiming “protects”, “more calcium”, “brain building blocks”, “brain nutrients” etc. Labels that you might even recognise on today’s formula milk.

Despite multiple bans on various aspects of Nestle’s marketing they continue to directly approach new mums, they continue to market their artificial milks unethically, and continue to make misleading ‘scientific’ claims about the ingredients in their milks. Babies continue to die2 because of these milks, fed because of companies like Nestle.

And so, I boycott Nestle. I no longer knowingly buy any Nestle products (and there’s a lot of them!) No more KitKats for me.

Believe it or not, I’ve received criticism for supporting this boycott. It’s a woman’s right to choose to feed her child how she wishes. I totally agree. I am, and always have been, pro-choice: an advocate for woman’s autonomy. No woman should ever be forced to feed her baby a certain way. However, I believe in an educated choice. I believe that women should know both the implications and consequences of choosing to either a) breastfeed or b) formula feed based on their unique circumstances and the availability of breastmilk replacements.

If educated women think that formula and breastmilk are on par (and they do) we cannot expect women in undeveloped countries — many of whom do not have access to the array of information that we have — to be able to make that choice properly. Why? Because of the marketing of companies like Nestle.

If this entry touches you, please consider supporting Baby Milk Action: protecting breastfeeding – protecting babies fed on formula.

It’s now 2019. This blog post is over 9 years old & I’ve been boycotting Nestle products for over 10 years. Nestlé continue to push their baby milks & foods to the poorest areas via health professionals despite laws in place to stop them:

Doctors told researchers during in-depth interviews that they had received everything from free training and trips as well as powdered formula samples to promote the products, including “Nan” by Nestle and “Enfamil” by Chicago-based Mead Johnson.

[..] “It is alarming to see how much influence a doctor can have on whether women breastfeed exclusively or not,” Rothstein said. “Our research shows how effective the formula industry can be at targeting vulnerable mothers through marketing to their physicians.”

Companies Pushed Baby Formula in Peru Despite Ban, June 2019

In addition to this, Nestle have been linked to deforestation of jungles and rainforests for palm oil, despite making promises to make their palm oil supply chain fully sustainable:

Nestlé, Mars and Hershey have been accused of breaking pledges to stop using “conflict palm oil” from deforested Indonesian jungles, just days before the annual Halloween confectionery frenzy.

Nestlé, Hershey and Mars ‘breaking promises over palm oil use’, October 2017

Former Nestlé chairman and CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe stated that the idea that there is a human right to water (one of the few things actually fundamental to our survival) “extreme” and continues to make millions of dollars by bottling and selling water in economically depressed areas with few water protection laws (emphasis my own):

…it illuminates how Nestlé has come to dominate a controversial industry, spring by spring, often going into economically depressed municipalities with the promise of jobs and new infrastructure in exchange for tax breaks and access to a resource that’s scarce for millions

Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water It Pays Nearly Nothing For, 22 September 2017

Nestlé has been bottling and selling water that it does not have the legal right to use, officials in California have concluded.

Nestle has been bottling and selling water it has no right to in drought-stricken California, state says, 27 December 2017

These are not the actions of a company that made a mistake “way back” and wants to make amends. These are the actions of a company that consciously, deliberately exploit the weakest and most vulnerable to make as much profit as they possibly can.

I continue to boycott Nestlé.

1 To prepare bottles properly you need access to clean, hot water. Hands must be washed. Bottles, teats etc must be cleaned and sterilised. Hands must be washed again. Boil clean water to prepare the formula with, letting it cool to no lower than 70 degrees C (powdered milk is not sterile, it needs to be that hot to kill the bacteria). Add the water to the bottle, then add the exact amount of formula. Cool the milk to the desired temperature by running the sealed bottle under a cold tap or by placing it in a jug of cold water. The whole process can take up to 45 minutes.

2 WHO estimates that 1.5 million infants die around the world every year because they are not breastfed.

This entry was updated 12th July 2019 to clarify and enhance wording, and remove dead links.

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

17 comments so far

  1. Mike Brady said:

    Many thanks for this article and the links to the Baby Milk Action site.

    Nestlé’s tactics change, but the strategy remains the same: to undermine breastfeeding to increase sales of breastmilk substitutes.

    You mention the ‘protect’ and other claims. Nestlé latest global marketing strategy – already rolled out in 120 countries – is to promote its baby milk with a colourful ‘protect’ logo added to labels, backed by promotion of claims about benefits of the formula, which do not stand up to scrutiny. Nestlé’s targeting of health workers, not only with misleading claims, but sponsorship and gifts, is a major concern these days.

    Nestlé continues to defend its ‘protect’ claims, so we need more messages going to the company to show it loses more money and business by such irresponsible behaviour than it gains in sales, because at the end of the day, Nestlé management care about money above all else, even the lives of babies. See:
    http://info.babymilkaction.org/news/campaignblog260510

    Nestle is no friend to those who use formula, for whatever reason. It is also refusing to warn that powdered formula is not sterile and the simple steps that can be taken to reduce risks of possible contamination with harmful bacteria. See our ‘infant feeding’ section for the information Nestle denies people.

  2. Stephanie said:

    I can’t allow myself to enjoy Nestle products while knowing this information. As you said, I am pro-choice in pretty much all matters, but this isn’t about choice; this is deliberate misrepresentation of fact and blatant denial/disregard of some. I can’t support a company who harms children for their own gain.

  3. Anj. said:

    Just disgusting. Thank you for highlighting this. Another way for me to make my shopping as ethical as I can, by keeping away from their products as much as possible.

  4. Allie said:

    That picture breaks my heart, especially when I’ve told that the average woman CAN make enough milk to feed triplets. I don’t have any links that back that up but plenty of women have successfully breastfed twins. Whoever told this woman she couldn’t feed twins is an idiot and largely responsible for the death of that little girl.

    Marketing is a problem, and not just in underdeveloped countries. I don’t think formulas should be advertised and if they are, they should only be shown as an adequate, not superior, alternative to those who for whatever cannot breastfeed. Companies should not be able to use false advertising to convince mothers that their formulas are superior to breast milk.

    I don’t think I’ve seen much if any Nestle advertising (don’t watch much TV or read magazines) but I have seen many commercials for Enfamil by Mead Johnson. Those commercials make me angry. It has "Clinically proven Triple Health Guard" for growth (they do add that this is similar to breast milk), brain and eye development, and improved immune system. However, the fine print of the commercial mentions that it has not been proven to be superior to other formulas with regards to growth and development, which makes their commercials seem like false advertising. But how many moms get duped because they don’t see the fine print? The commercials say it has all of these things that are good for your baby and never mentions that breast milk has the same. Any mentions of "similar to breast milk" are put in a way that makes their formula seem superior. (And don’t get me started on their "Restful" formula.)

    Even in developed countries there is undue pressure to supplement. My twin sister (this is partly why that picture makes me so angry; I’m a twin, albeit mostly formula fed) is exclusively breastfeeding her 3 month old. My mother and other sisters have tried to convince her to give her "just one bottle" when she becomes a little fussy. Her tummy might hurt from mommy’s milk, they say, so let’s give her this completely artificial substitute instead. Because that would be SO much better than natural milk, right? Unbelievable.

  5. Charlie said:

    Which company is it who has that advert in the UK at the moment that says that breast milk is all well and good – but when your baby is ready to move on they should try their products…

    I heard of this Nestle practise some time ago, it’s absolutely disgusting. If you make someone worried that they can’t breast feed they’re not going to be able to, no matter if they physically can or not.

  6. Katy said:

    the whole "NOT FOR GIRLS" branding of yorkie chocolate pissed me off too… although that was probably meant as a joke? who knows. I’ve been avoiding nestle products for many years now (with a few occasional annoying exceptions)

  7. Audrey said:

    In America it’s extremely difficult to avoid Nestle products. The list is long and they get resold in other goods/locations than just the grocery store. I do avoid them however after seeing this information in Snark.

  8. Kerry said:

    That picture actually shocked me and it takes a lot to do that. I don’t think anyone would ever guess that those babies were the same age and from the same background, let alone twins.
    In fact, the whole post shocked me. I can’t believe Nestle care so much more about their own profit than the health and lives of innocent children. It’s good that you’re raising this awareness and lets hope that in the future, somehow, something can be done to stop this disgusting behaviour.

  9. Sharmaine said:

    My cousin cannot breastfeed her baby because she can’t sustain it. So she went to several doctors and was advised that she has to mix breastfeeding with formula. Her daughter grew up healthy and beautiful

  10. Marie said:

    I actually had no idea that any of this was going on. This whole thing is really disgusting – I don’t understand how heartless these people can be to risk the lives of millions of innocent children just so that they could make a little extra money.

    I know some women who can’t breastfeed because they have problem with their milk, so they use formula. But a doctor will always, always recommend that a woman use her breastmilk if she can. It’s natural and the best thing for the baby.

  11. Erin said:

    It’s heartbreaking to think of all the babies that have died because of their treachery.

    I’ve never been one for boycotting, but after I heard about this I started. It’s one small way I can make a difference. Also, I don’t buy BP gas anymore, but that’s a separate issue.

  12. Sharmaine said:

    It has nothing to do with Nestle but it has something to do about breastfeeding and about the picture you posted in your blog (the child that was bottle fed). I was moved by that picture and so I came to remember my cousin’s case and I’m glad her baby didn’t turn out like that one in the picture

  13. Theresa said:

    It’s sad that a company would misinform people to the extent that it would cause harm to babies. Of all people to put into harms way, ya know?

    I never have bought a whole lot of Nestle products anyway, let alone their formula. I have had issues with breastfeeding in the past and felt the need to switch to formula, it is very expensive and some weeks I wondered how I was going to scrape up the money to afford it. It turned out to be more stressful the frustrations I faced with breastfeeding.

    There is no substitute for breast milk, any pediatrician around here will tell you that, they even have the "Over 1 million babies die each year.." thing posted on the walls of the office that I visit.

    I will admit though, in comparison to Nestle, the company who makes Enfamil sounds more honest at least. They tell you on every can that they’ve tried to make the formula match the benefits of breast milk but there simply is NO SUBSTITUTION.

    I won’t join the boycot, it most likely won’t make a damn difference anyway, but I don’t agree with those tactics, especially when companies go over to uneducated countries and pull that shit. Pathetic.

  14. Shola said:

    I remember my amazing (cute) geography teacher told me about this in a lesson about rivers ¬

    I boycotted Nestle a while back. I agree, I’m pro-choice, but not when they have been misled and given incorrect information which effects their decision. It’s a really vile thing for Nestle to do.

    Thing is, if they every get sued or anything, the son of a bitch who made the decision to let its employees lie to women gets to hide behind the company. The company ‘Nestle’ would be treated as a person in court, not an individual person, so it’s really warped that nobody would be held responsible.

    I am really glad you posted this, Jem.

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