February 15, 2010
The Daily Mail runs a story http://bit.ly/bWzznV and an editorial http://bit.ly/bg3gWb today complaining about the excessive power of the EU in regulating the sale of baby milk. Boots, one of the major retailers of infant formula in the UK, does not offer loyalty points to its customers for the purchase of baby milk, whereas it does for almost everything else that it sells. The Daily Mail editorialises that this is a “craven decision” by the retailer and an “insensitive example of dystopian EU meddling”.
The background is a general concern in medicine and public health that babies should be breastfed if possible and formula-fed only if necessary. The commercial promotion of infant formula is often held to militate against the best interests of babies, and it is therefore strictly controlled.
The World Health Organisation http://bit.ly/dBBBIe adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes http://bit.ly/I1H1e in 1981, and its terms are reflected in the European Commission Directive 2006/141/EC http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:401:0001:01:EN:HTML of 22 December 2006 and, in England, The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007 http://bit.ly/cLbXQ3. (There was an earlier regulation on the same subject in the UK in 1995.)
The relevant extract from the European directive reads “There shall be no point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples or any other promotional device to induce sales of infant formula directly to the consumer at the retail level, such as special displays, discount coupons, premiums, special sales, loss-leaders and tie-in sales.” Loyalty points fall within this definition and so are not allowed.
So, the “craven decision” by the retailer is in fact a decision to obey the law. Is it really correct for a national newspaper to expect major, respected companies to act illegally? What kind of respect does this show for the rule of law?
Secondly, why demand that anybody breaks this law in particular? Here we have an example of the European Union acting to ensure a level playing field for competition within the single market and protecting the interests of the consumer. The WHO code is not binding; the actions of the EU are required in order to turn it into law.
Let’s consider what would happen if the tables were reversed, if the EU had adopted a law in conflict with the WHO proposals. What if European companies were permitted to promote and market infant formula for their own commercial benefit without regard to the wider public health consequences? The outrage from the Daily Mail criticising the insensitive EU is not hard to imagine.
Pro-Europeans should be proud that the EU is standing up for public health in the face of commercial interests, and any criticism in the Daily Mail should be seen for the shallow opportunism it is.Author : European Movement UK