Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bitter, Not So Sweet End to Newark/Nestle Campaign

After 6 months of intense volunteer efforts, this is our final e-mail update as we are closing the "Stop Newark Nestle Now" petition tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 31st.

The "Nestle Education Program" conducted it's first class on July 11th at the Newark Now – Family Success Center located at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.  So, it appears that we stalled but were unsuccessful at stopping the Nestle sponsored "pilot" program to target childhood obesity. 

But we do know that we have been successful at educating many and raising awareness of the formula industry's marketing schemes disguised as "good will" donations. We would like to add that exposing the true agendas of the many parties involved was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we are now better informed about the politics surrounding the food industries as well as the the "big picture" regarding our uphill battle to secure breastfeeding.  A curse because the truth was a bitter pill to swallow, one that will leave a bad taste in our mouths for a very long time.

Even though, all International breastfeeding organizations and 2400 individuals signed the petition from over 50 countries sadly, there was not enough US support, on any level, to influence Mayor Booker to change his decision to partner with Nestle.  

In February, when we requested help from United States Breastfeeding Committee , we were told, "We do not typically take positions on individual situations of this nature, but we do encourage individual advocates to take action according to their personal conscience and interests." To us, this response was not acceptable as we are just two lactation consultants with private practices! (Renee lives in Canada) How could we be expected to lobby this issue on our own?  Most importantly, Nestle's plan to promote this program across the US is a huge threat to public health in the states and worldwide, not an "individual situation".  

It took much effort and tenacity to hold the USBC accountable to their own mission statement "to improve the Nation’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding."  Also their objective, “ to advance breastfeeding on our Nation’s agenda through Collaboration, Leadership, and Advocacy.” Goal B of their current Strategic Plan is to: “Reduce marketing that undermines optimal breastfeeding,” with the sub-objective to “Counteract the negative impact of product marketing.”  

USBC did offer and follow through with notifying their state coalitions regarding the campaign but refused to sign the petition as a group, post it to their website, write a press release, or consider speaking to the NJ Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd, as we requested. Commissioner O'Dowd viewed this Nestle sponsorship as only a "donation". Communication from the USBC might have been more effective in convincing her otherwise. Especially with regards to this program being in conflict with the WHO Code, endorsed by the US Government and the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.

Finally this month, the USBC did report that they have arranged a meeting with Mayor Booker at the end of the month. They have also promised to write a "position paper for cities, counties and states describing how such partnerships are undesirable" which is supposed to be placed on their web site soon. Otherwise, we are not privy to any information regarding their "behind the scene" advocacy in this matter. 

Even after being properly informed, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, First Lady Michelle Obama, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality, Center for Disease Control, International Lactation Consultant Association, La Leche League Intl, NJ Governor Chris Christie, NJ Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd, numerous Newark Public Health Officials, Newark town counsel members, clergy or local media (just to name a few) felt no obligated to get involved, intervene or speak out publicly about what is going on.  As with the multitude of agencies, organizations, programs and professionals designed and funded to combat childhood obesity, promote and protect the health and well-being of women and children in the US - we were met with silence, secrecy, lack of transparency, complacency or "we don't get involved, the Mayor can do as he pleases."  And what makes it even worse, we were to discover that many of the above, are themselves, funded by the formula, baby food and junk food industries.  

As all national organizations from countries around the world, ramp up their interest in promoting and supporting breastfeeding, there is still silence or lack of action, (in many countries) on the issue of protecting women from the commercial pressures to artificially feed their babies and the safety of those babies who depend on formula to live - the US is not alone in this.

It is our belief that if all national breastfeeding organizations are not actively involved with putting the WHO Code into serious practice, breastfeeding will continue to be another casualty this world cannot afford. More and more babies will continue to be put in serious health risk as the dependance on artificial baby milks increase as breastfeeding decreases. 

Furthermore, as long as the US government allows politicians to make decisions about health care, industry will come first. As long as the formula industry is permitted to "buy" their way around proper manufacturing/regulation/ marketing of their products- they are literally "untouchable". By this we mean, unaccountable to those who dare question their methods and those who become dependent on their products.  History has shown that when dealing with formula companies that place profit above all else, babies are at risk- no matter how they are fed.

This was a petition to stop the Mayor of Newark from allowing Nestle to exploit his city's poorest, most vulnerable citizens. The method was to declare Nestle's seemingly harmless program, a cleverly crafted scheme to further their agenda of greed and market domination.

But it didn't stop there. This became a global outcry to "WAKE UP and ACT to PROTECT breastfeeding and all babies from further harm!  Unfortunately, no matter how hard we tried, those in the decision-making seats whom we bestowed our confidence and loyalty, simply chose to ignore our pleas.

We would like to thank you for your support over the last six months. The international support was overwhelming. Advice from our colleagues at BMA (Baby Milk Action), IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) and WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action) including their open letters to Mayor Booker and posting on their websites was invaluable.  Special thanks to Peggy O'Mara from, Elizabeth Ben-Ishal of Public Citizen, Bonnie Rochman from,, Valerie McClain, Jodine Chase, as well as all US BF coalitions, BF advocacy websites and individual bloggers who posted and shared this petition. Lastly, your personal letters helped by adding that "human touch" which got us through many long hours, allowing us to take this as far as we possibly could.

We may not have been able to stop this but maybe our efforts will stall or even prevent Nestle from doing this "in other cities and states". This petition may be over but our commitment to protecting mothers and babies must never end.

Best wishes,
Maria Parlapiano RN IBCLC
Renee Hefti-Graham RN, LC