Milk wars in the Philippines: Breastmilk versus Infant Formula

In a radio interview, Philippine Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye reported that the top three consumer commodities in the country are formula milk, mobile phone cards and beer. Infant formula products are among the most imported goods in the country. A major reason why these goods are popular despite being expensive and vastly inferior to breast milk is the aggressive advertising of milk companies. The public seems mesmerized by milk ads which claim to make children more intelligent, healthy and strong forgetting that infant formula remains a poor substitute to breast milk.

Last year, the Department of Health imposed a ban on the promotion and advertising of breast milk substitutes. This regulation was challenged by milk companies in the Supreme Court arguing that it infringed on freedom of trade and the freedom to inform the public on infant formulas. The Supreme Court sided with the petitioners and granted a temporary restraining order which prevented health authorities to enforce the ban on milk ads. The order is still effective today

A background on the milk wars between milk companies and health authorities is provided by Inside PCIJ. The blog also uploads the letter by US businessmen urging the Philippine government to remove ban on milk ads. Read also the arguments raised by milk companies why the Supreme Court should rule in favor of their petition. Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta writes an article for UP Forum detailing the legal basis of milk regulation in the country.

Achieving happiness explains her opposition to infant formula ads and issues an appeal to mothers:

“It's all about making money. The infant milk formula companies promote their products by saying the milk will promote intelligence, increase immunity against childhood diseases, and “Your kids will be so bibo they'll end up on TV just like the models on our TV ads!” Yeah, just shell out P600 per 1 kilogram can and wait for your baby to develop digestion problems, the least being gas and stomach cramps. I was also told that drinking cow's milk can cause bone problems. On the other hand, there are no arguments against mothers’ milk. None. Moms! If you can breastfeed, do it. There's nothing more important than making sure that during the first three years of your baby's life ALL their nutrition needs are met, and this can be if you breastfeed.”

Anthropologist Michael Tan also critiques milk ads:

“The industry’s “information” is just too skewed toward promoting milk formula, from infant booklets given in hospitals to new mothers, with advertisements for milk formulas and weaning foods, to the packaging itself. I do resent the way the manufacturers still attempt to drum up their ludicrous IQ messages in the packaging. I have a can of Gain in front of me and it has “IQ” written all over the can. Psychologists can tell you this is insidious, almost a way of saying: if you shift, you might be taking away all this IQ-enhancing milk from your child.”

Lawyer Raul Pangalangan reveals how some hospitals are encouraging the use of infant formula:

“My wife breastfed all our children, and yet until the Rooming-in and Breastfeeding Law was adopted, we always found it difficult to make the nurses bring in our newborn baby for breastfeeding. First, the hospital fixed their own feeding hours, as if infants already had a schedule for recess and lunch. Then, when my wife reported at feeding time, the nurses would have already bottle-fed our baby, saying that, surprise, our baby got hungry ahead of their feeding hours. They should also have known that babies, once they find it easier to feed from the bottle, would have to be weaned back to the breast.”

Meanwhile, Infocen Balita reports how a provincial government is promoting breastfeeding:

“To institutionalize the campaign, a task force on breastfeeding was formed in the provincial level, while other Aklan municipalities have started forming theirs, according to the Provincial Health Office here. Also, health workers in the provincial and municipal health offices and at rural health centers here always make it a point to orient would-be mothers during their visits on the health benefits of breastfeeding for them and for their babies.”

Daring actions were done to encourage mothers to reject infant formula. The Philippines has the world record for the largest number of mothers simultaneously breastfeeding their children. Last month, a dozen topless mothers picketed the Supreme Court while milk companies are arguing their case against the ban on milk ads.

99% wife and mom hails these brave women:

“Really wished I were there that day, with those brave godivas, proudly presenting mammaries that nourished the world. Even if my own mommy-pumps are bone dry. What would we be without advocates like them?”

Madnowherewoman also applauds the action and comments on the Court proceedings:

“While it's a pity that the individual daring mothers who did this remain nameless in the news, kudos should go to Judge Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez for pointedly asking why the milk companies were more concerned with loss of profits than the health of infants, when it has been proven time and again that breastmilk is best for babies.”

Clerical Whispers reports that a World Health Organization official asked the help of the influential Catholic Church to promote breastfeeding. Mom Exchange is happy over the operation of a breastmilk bank in the country. Environmentalists also endorse breastfeeding. Sonnie’s porch blogs about the milk wars and corporate social responsibility. Tiene Ara Zamboanguena is shocked that some mothers are using coffee creamer as breastmilk substitute.

Keep Abreast wants to boycott a company which produces infant formula. Baby Milk Action has a web page devoted to “help the Philippines stand up to company bullying.” Boycott Nestle-protect infants uploads You Tube video clips on unethical promotion of milk ads. Best for Babies shares an article written by a lady senator on her breastfeeding experience.

A milk company is also in trouble after it admitted that the milk cans it released to the market contained rust and mold. Professional Heckler has a blogpost on this issue. Lito U. Gagni who writes for Businessmirror believes that microbiological tests should have been carried out by the company. Thoughts of a Drama Queen p.2 cautions the media not to resort to “biased and untruthful news” regarding this matter.


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  • Mazen

    breast feeding still the oldest way and the most important for the babies than formula because the mother milk contain all nutrition needs for the babies

    • disqus_G68pDSf3YR

      Yes I agree but often in the Philippines the mother is not getting the elemental nutrition required to produce nutritional milk. Brest feeding is indeed the best based on a mother with a balanced diet.

  • The issue of infant formula is a global problem.

    For decades, science has proven, and pediatricians confirm, that breastfeeding is far and away the best way to feed infants: better nutrition, better immunity, better mother-baby bonding, better physical health for the mother…the list goes on. Still, because of our infatuation with new things (like plastic bottles, instant food, disposable anything, etc.) and the increasing need and desire of mothers to work in the marketplace, we have been led away from the miraculous blessing of breastfeeding and into the world of artificial baby formulas. The result: today, fewer and fewer women breastfeed.

    In America, it has become an institutional problem. Over the years, the companies that make infant formula have forged questionable partnerships with hospitals to provide free samples of formula along with free coupons to new mothers, even while hospitals say they promote the more natural alternative, breastfeeding. At a time when many new U.S. mothers can’t even afford health insurance, they are encouraged to spend money on formula that they don’t need. While bottle feeding is a personal option and some may argue that giving free formula samples helps low income mothers, there is nothing cheaper than breastfeeding! Even more important, infants born into poverty are the most needy of the healthy aspects of breast milk!

    This is an issue of babies vs. big business. It is time for us to use our power of influence on behalf of healthier families. We can inspire change by contacting hospitals, doctors and government officials to speak truth to power.

    You can read more about this at my blog, InSpiritry – InSpiration for the Greater Good:, where I welcome comments!

    We can be a blessing!

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  • Uldarico Santisteban

    This note maybe far different from all the comments published here. I was recipient of donated breast milk around 1938 from an organization called SACA LECHE, and if my memory serves me right, that building eventually became PCC in Lepanto, Manila. Can anyone give me history of Saca Leche. That is I remember. My auntie would go there to get free mother’s milk and those donated milk provide life and I am still alive today. Thank Jesus the Lord.

  • how have morke breastfeeding for my baby

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