An advocacy group for breastfeeding has urged the International Pediatric Association (IPA) to stay "true to its ethics" and free itself from the sponsorship clutches of baby food companies.
In an open letter on Wednesday (August 4), the Malaysia-based International Baby Food Action Network said it had learned that five baby food companies are appearing as sponsors and exhibitors at the IPA Congress in Johannesburg this week.
Although the network acknowledged that considerable efforts have been made by IPA to reduce the promotional impact of sponsors and exhibitors, it noted that "sponsorship in whatever form influences attitudes, creates a sense of obligation and a need to reciprocate."
It said IPA drew up guidelines in 2005 to govern its relationship with the industry in a move that has been seen as "positive support for protecting breastfeeding."
"We realize that it is too late to turn this sponsorship around. It is not too late, however, to openly denounce this conflict of interest," the network said in its letter.
It said baby food companies in the world have billions of dollars to compete with the promotion of breast milk, but breastfeeding advocates "work on a shoe string and only have the power of the pen.
"We also know from experience that companies such as Abbott, Aspen, Danone, Nestlé and Pfizer can easily find loopholes which will allow them to put a promotional spin on ingredients in their products, especially special formulas," said the letter.
The network once again affirmed that there was "undeniable scientific evidence for the benefits of six months of exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond."
The International Baby Food Action Network is a 30-year old coalition of more than 200 nonprofit NGOs in more than 100 countries working for the protection and promotion of breastfeeding and the elimination of irresponsible marketing of breast milk substitutes.