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HK government issues infant formula marketing code

The Hong Kong government has stepped up scrutiny of the labelling and advertising of formula milk in a bid to promote and support breastfeeding in the city.

The government launched the voluntary “code of marketing of formula milk and related products and food products for infants and young children” (HK Code) on 13 June, which aims to protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children, “based on adequate and unbiased information and through appropriate marketing”.

It provides voluntary guidance to relevant sectors including traders, healthcare workers and healthcare facilities, as well as childcare workers and childcare facilities that are involved in infant and young children’s nutrition.

While offering free samples for customers in Hong Kong is currently commonplace for infant formula brands, the code states that manufacturers or distributors of the products “should not carry out promotional activities including advertising, using special displays, and offering prizes or gifts such as free samples”.

Moreover, product labels of formula milk, feeding bottles and teats should clearly state breastfeeding as the norm for infant feeding.

A spokesman for the food and health bureau said, “We encourage manufacturers and distributors of the products concerned to make reference to the principles and objectives of the HK Code in formulating their marketing practices. We also appeal for the support of professional groups, institutions, NGOs and members of the public to work hand in hand to protect healthy infant and young child feeding practices from undue commercial influences.”

When asked if the new guidelines would affect various brands’ marketing strategies, the Hong Kong Infant and Young Children Nutrition Association said its members are studying the code.

The association consists of major formula milk manufacturers in Hong Kong, including Abbott Laboratories Limited, Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition (Hong Kong) Limited, FrieslandCampina (Hong Kong) Limited, Mead Johnson Nutrition (Hong Kong) Limited, Nestlé Hong Kong Limited, Snow Brand Hong Kong Company Limited and Wyeth (Hong Kong) Holding Company Limited.

According to the code, the container or label of those infant formula products should not include any image, text or other representation that is “likely to undermine or discourage breastfeeding, that makes a comparison to breastmilk, or that suggests that the product is nearly equivalent or superior to breastmilk; promote bottle feeding; and convey an endorsement by a professional or other body.”

“To create a breastfeeding-friendly environment which will boost the rate and sustainability of breastfeeding, we have implemented a series of multi-faceted measures in phases. These include strengthening professional support for breastfeeding in healthcare facilities and public acceptance and support for breastfeeding, supporting working mothers to sustain breastfeeding by encouraging the community to adopt a breastfeeding-friendly workplace policy, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in public places through promotion of breastfeeding-friendly premises and provision of babycare facilities, as well as strengthening the surveillance on local breastfeeding,” a spokesman for the food and health bureau said in a release.

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