Milk Wars: Spare the children from capitalism

I rarely write about politics, social issues and topics that would reflect my Left-leaning frame of mind and advocacies (except for health or environment-related ones) here on the Four-eyed Journal ever since I got this domain + hosting for free. They were reserved for my all-Filipino blog, Sumilang.

However, since this blog gets more traffic (I think) than Sumilang, I decided to post it here instead to give the issue more media mileage so that in the end, more and more Pilipinos would talk and do something about it in the not so distant future. Watch out folks, this geek is about hoist a red flag.

burns-capitalistThe title says it all. The capitalists’ – milk companies – essence for existence, profit has once again stood up and has poised to threaten even more the lives and future of our children as they engage the Department of Health, NGOS, health activists, lawyers, Church leaders and breastfeeding mothers in court all because their “right to unrestrained trade” were being violated by the revised IRR of the Milk Code or EO 51.

Keywords here: “unrestrained trade.” This is the bane of the capitalist mode of production, that capitalists would do almost anything just to gain profit. Never mind if their products and services are now causing more harm to the general public.

Translation in the reality of Philippine context according to the PCIJ:

The DOH has blamed the milk companies for the decline in breastfeeding rates, specifically, the aggressive and unethical marketing of breast milk substitutes. For 2006, milk companies have spent P2.5 billion in advertising for the first half alone, according to AC Nielsen Media Research. A small amount compared to the P21 billion annual profit of the milk companies, which, according to the DOH, is a conservative estimate. (Read the PCIJ report on breastfeeding.)

The health department has been advocating for tighter regulation against breast milk substitutes. They have good reason for doing so. In 2003, results of the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) showed that:

  • Only 16.1 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed up to four to five months of age;
  • 13 percent of infants were never breastfed, making the Philippines the lowest in ever breastfed rates among 56 countries that have conducted a DHS in the past ten years;
  • 39 percent of infants are using infant formula in their first 12 months of life;
  • Half stopped exclusively breastfeeding by the third week of life;
  • Infants delivered in a health facility or by a health professional are less likely to breastfeed.

This decline in breastfeeding rates in the country has resulted in death and malnutrition of children under 5 years of age. In 2004, there was a reported 82,000 under 5 deaths in the Philippines, making the Philippines one of the 42 countries that account for 90 percent of under 5 deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also reported that at least 16,000 infants die in the Philippines annually, deaths that could have been prevented had there been exclusive breastfeeding in the first hour; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding to at least two years.

Aside from the deaths that could have been prevented, Unicef has enumerated the costs of inappropriate infant feeding practices:

  • 1.2 million more illness episodes;
  • 10 million more days ill;
  • 450,000 more health facility visits;
  • 36,000 more infants hospitalized.

Economically, this translates to:

  • P320 million in funeral expenses;
  • P1 billion in lost wages caring for sick infants;
  • P100 million on out of pocket expenditure for health facility visits and basic drugs;
  • P50 million out of pocket for hospitalizing their infants;
  • P230 million government expenditure on hospitalization;
  • P21.3 billion to purchase formula.

In the National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2003, it was found that 27.6 percent of Filipino children below the age of five were underweight and 30.4 percent were stunted.

Again, in the face of all these statistics by the government itself; the greedy milk/pharmaceutical companies cry that their “rights to unrestrained trade” are being violated.

What about our rights to a healthy life? What about our rights to protection from products with false claims and promises? What about our right to protection from deceptive advertising and marketing? What about the rights, nay the blessed opportunity of mothers to raise their child as nature and God intended it, nurtured and cared for in her own breasts and arms?

Looking at the quoted statistics, the milk industry is just a small part of the bigger picture. Since the milk companies are the same pharmaceutical companies that sell us medicines, health equipments and other related products and services, one could easily conclude that they could care less if their infant formulas would indeed produce “child geniuses” in the future or not. Because if the child gets sick, just sell them medicines and other health products instead. Either way, the pharma-cum-milk companies would still gain profit.

And that’s why they cry: “our rights to unrestrained trade” are being violated every time the government does something that IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO; protect and promote the common good and welfare of the general public.

Sadly, the Department of Health and it allies the NGOs, health activists, lawyers, church leaders and breastfeeding mothers may be alone in this battle for our children’s rights to a healthy life because the evil milk companies have pulled the string that could turn things around to their favor; a letter from the US Chamber of Commerce to the fake President saying that:

the implementation of the RIRR would have “negative consequences for investors’ confidence in the predictability of business law in the Philippines.”

The battle is now at a deadlock in the Supreme Court, and if the court would live up to its new, recently-built reputation of standing up for the rights and welfare of the people, it should not listen to Uncle Sam but instead to our breastfeeding mothers and their children whose lives are now at stake.

2 Replies to “Milk Wars: Spare the children from capitalism”

  1. I think it is because of the public's preference to listen more to commercial ads than to the advice of their family physicians that the campaign for milk formula being better than breastmilk has succeeded.

    Haven't I encountered this often in the clinic and the hospital? Everytime I try to educate people about the importance of breastfeeding or some other healthy practice, they'd tell me, "Eh bakit sa commercial ganito daw sabi —." Even if I do tell them that all advertisements are an exaggeration, still, they'd rather listen to what the ads were saying, because according to them, it wouldn't get on TV if it isn't "true". I call it stubborn willful ignorance.

    Worse, however, is that some doctors do promote the use of milk formulas over breastfeeding.

    I'd not blame it on those who advertise, rather I'd blame it on those who listen and believe advertisements without verifying if their claims are true.

  2. Another problem is the misdirected focus of the people to preoccupied with trying to make ends meet. The daily grind of survival has overtaken health issues and has taken the backseat.

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