The WHO Code
What is the WHO Code?
On May 21, 1981, the 34th World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in the form of a recommendation, in the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution. More than 160 countries and territories, including the United States, agreed to take steps to implement the Code. Enforcement of the Code is a matter for the government of each country to decide, in keeping with its social and legislative framework.
The aim of the Code is to "contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breast-feeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breast-milk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution."
The Code (World Health Organization Publication WHO/MCH/NUT/90.1) says:
NO advertising of breast-milk substitutes to the public.
NO free samples to mothers.
NO promotion of products in health-care facilities
NO company "mothercraft" nurses to advise mothers.
NO gifts or personal samples to health workers.
NO words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding, including
pictures of infants on the products.
Information to health workers should be scientific and factual.
All information on artificial feeding, including the labels, should explain the benefits of breastfeeding, and the costs and
hazards associated with artificial feeding.
Unsuitable products, such as condensed milk, should not be promoted for babies.
All products should be of a high quality and take into account the climatic and storage conditions of the country where
they are used.
What's Happening in the US?
The US government has formally given the Code to U.S. manufactures of breast-milk substitutes along with the government's perspectives on the impact of the Code on those companies. All three major manufacturers have their own code of conduct where the marketing of infant formula is concerned and all three have declared that they will abide by the International Code when doing business in developing countries, while review their practices in industrialized countries.
The American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a policy stating that the Academy would terminate the support it received from any company which promoted its products (infant formula) directly to the public.
US laws in place to protect the safety and sanitary condition of infant formula are the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Infant Formula Act of 1980. Complaints, information on microbiological and nutrient testing, and manufacturer's audits can be found in the December 1991 amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Action, International Digest of Health Legislation, 43(3):556 (1992).
A variety of groups and individuals have written articles supporting the Code and discourage people to personally or professionally associate themselves with companies in violation of the Code.