Infant formula is one of the products that helped create food conglomerate Nestlé when, in 1867, Swiss pharmacist Henri Nestlé mixed together a liquid food from cow’s milk, wheat flour, and sugar for a neighbor’s baby who wouldn’t nurse.
Infant formula also is the reason for a boycott against the company, launched in Minneapolis in 1977.
The roots of the boycott started in 1974, when the British organization War on Want published a booklet called “The Baby Killer.” The booklet was widely distributed and translated into several languages. As a result, many church-related groups joined against Nestlé.
Nestlé responded by suing the publisher of the German-language translation, Third World Action Group, for libel. While Nestlé won the two-year trial, the defendants were fined only $400 and the judge told Nestlé that it “must modify its publicity methods fundamentally.”
The topic of analyzing the marketing of breast milk substitutes in developing countries continued to gain traction with a U.S. Senate public hearing as well as WHO and UNICEF hosting an international meeting.
In 1981, The New York Times published a lengthy article on infant formula use in developing countries.
Problems when mothers of infants in developing countries switch to formula include: disease because of contaminated water; lack of means to sterilize water; and diluting formula to make it last longer.
Around the same time as the 1981 article, research demonstrated that breastfeeding is healthier for babies.
Nestlé met with boycott coordinators in 1984, and the boycott was suspended when the company agreed to adhere to the World Health Assembly’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. However, the boycott resumed in 1989 when the International Baby Food Action Network alleged that formula companies were providing free and low-cost supplies to hospitals in developing countries.
Even though Nestlé issued guidelines for mothers on how and when to give babies formula as well as revamping its marketing materials, the boycott still exists today and even has expanded.
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