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NGO recruiting whistleblowers against illegal baby formula ads

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A little girl drinks baby formula in front of Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in June. Hong Menea

NGO recruiting whistleblowers against illegal baby formula ads

The Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance in Cambodia (SUN CSA Cambodia) has created an online form to collect reports on any dairy products with marketing content that could be considered contrary to the promotion of breastfeeding.

On August 30, the executive committee of SUN CSA Cambodia inaugurated the project to collect reports of violations of sub-decree 133 on the promotion of breastfeeding for infants and children through an online form at: https://bit.ly/violationsub133

Khy Nearirath, nutrition specialist at World Vision International Cambodia, said the project aims to make it easier for the public to report companies that promote dairy products as being superior somehow to breastfeeding, which is contrary to the sub-decree.

She said most shop owners remain unaware of this sub-decree and the companies that distribute products for them to sell in their stores often disregard it.

“Shop owners often use advertising displays provided by the companies that make the products and use their logos and content without fully realising that they could be violating the sub-decree if they aren’t careful about what they use in their shops,” she said.

Hou Kroeun, deputy country director of the NGO Helen Keller International in Cambodia, said some infant formula firms take every opportunity to promote their products and often violate sub-decree 133 by trying to mislead mothers to get them to buy their products rather than breastfeed.

“Some advertisements say their infant formula contains vitamins and minerals or imply that mothers should use them and give up breastfeeding. This is a misconception that is inconsistent with the scientific evidence that breastfeeding is the best option,” he said.

Sub-decree 133 covers babies from up to 24 months old.

But Chum Sen Veasna, coordinator of Helen Keller International Infant and Child Research Assessment Project in Cambodia, said some companies had found ways to skirt the regulations.

Some firms, he explained, promote formula products for children from 24 or 36 months up. But when mothers buy them, the firms also provide formula products for 12-month-old babies to them as promotional giveaways in the hopes that the mothers would try them.

According to Sen Veasna, the Ministry of Health had fined more than 20 companies the sum of 2.5 million riel ($625) each for selling products that violate the sub-decree while another 40 had received warnings.

Sub-decree 133 bans infant formula companies from certain advertising and promotional activities without the approval of the health ministry, which recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months of their lives and if possible continue to do so up until the age of two.

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