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Commentary: On RP-US face off over baby milk

By Renee F. De Guzman

San Fernando City, La Union (29 November) -- "Breast milk is still the best for babies up to two years old." It comes from the most beautiful receptacles on earth and assures your offspring sufficient nourishment. Infant formulas are not as adequate substitute for breast milk in the first two years of their lives.

Human milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglubins and compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated in infant formula. It contains just the right amount of fatty foods, lactose, water and amino acids for human digestion, brain development and growth. Breast-fed babies suffer fewer illnesses because human milk transfers to the infant the mother's antibodies to disease.

Human milk straight from the breast is always sterile, never contaminated by polluted water or dirty bottles. Sucking the breast develops the baby's jaws as well. And nursing creates an early emotional bonding between mother and child.

Scientific studies have shown that best first food for babies is breast milk. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, New York, said human milk is made for human infants and meets all their specific nutrient needs. She said that breast-feeding would save consumers money spent both in infant formula and on health care, and could save lives as well.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States started pressuring the Philippine Government over its tough position on infant milk formulas. The implementing rules and regulations covering the marketing of infant milk formulas would extend only up to two years or 24 months.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is acting in accordance with national interest without restraining the diplomatic and trading ties with any nation. He said that both the World Health Organization and the UNICEF have endorsed the IRR as a step in the right direction and as consistent with local and international agreements.

Why are the American Businessmen so concerned about the Philippines' IRR? Because infant milk formulas are big money. According to Dr. Jean Marc Olive', WHO country representative, Filipinos spent about P21.5 billion to buy infant formula products. If that expense be halved, that would mean savings of about P10.75 billion or about $200 million in foreign exchange of the Philippines.

Olive' said 950,000 or 38 percent of Filipino infants were fed mother's milk substitutes. And of this number, 25 percent were poor. The money spent on infant milk formulas could have been spent for nutritious food for the entire family, including nursing mother and could have made a dent in the malnutrition problem of the country.

The IRR being questioned is already undergoing a review to address the comments of the US Chamber of Commerce. It is not as if there is going to be a total ban on infant milk formulas. What the milk companies are being asked is just to stop marketing the infant formulas up to the age of two. Beyond this age, they can sell to the huge Asian market including the Philippines.

The Philippine Government as a matter of policy, supports and promotes breastfeeding and adheres to reasonably strict standards for the entry of infant milk formula products in the country.

It is encouraging that the government's stand on infant milk formula has drawn the support of 50 non-government organizations that are promoting breast-feeding and implements the revised IRR of the new Milk Code. Expressions of support have also come from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The Philippines is now seen as a rallying point for the campaign versus the pressure being exerted by the giant multinational milk companies. For the sake of tens of millions of infants all over the world who deserve to enjoy healthy lives, the Philippine government cannot afford to backdown in the face of the giant multinationals' pressure. (PIA La Union) [top]

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