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Monday, August 24, 2009

Learnings from the Milk Code Forum

Two LATCHers presented during the Forum. Velvet discussed the superiority of breast milk over formula and how a baby learns rhythm through breastfeeding. She also mentioned that in the Muslim culture, when a mother has given 3 full feedings to another baby, that baby will be considered as her own child's milk-sibling. Judy also had a short presentation on the "superstars" of the formula milk industry - BPA, rocket chemicals, growth hormones, melamine - you will be amazed and scared to learn about the multitude of contaminants that go into formula milk. She also showed a powerpoint show on "The Story of Milk". A more detailed summary of Judy's presentation is available here.
It was enlightening to hear about the experiences of Carmen Solinap, who was a representative of the Women Trade Union. She worked with a textile company in Laguna and was able to establish a lactation room in the factory. Ms. Solinap shared that they did not seek the milk-expression times as a favor or additional benefit from management but rather, they were able to schedule the employees' breaks around their milk-expression time. The Laguna lactation program was quite successful such that it had become the "norm" among the female employees to breastfeed their babies even if their maternity leaves already ended. She is now working on the establishment of a similar program in factories in Bulacan.
The heart of the Forum - the Milk Code and Rooming-In Act - were discussed by Atty. Ipat Luna of Tanggol Kalikasan. Atty. Ipat emphasized the coverage of the Milk Code and the violations being committed by the milk companies. She had a collection of photographs evidencing these violations. She also emphasized the need to be vigilant in watching or policing these milk companies. Atty. Ipat recognized the difficulty in implementing the penal provision of the milk code on individuals but stressed that if the different breastfeeding groups worked together, it would be possible to penalize milk companies (through suspension/revocation of the licenses/permits) in view of their rampant violations. The main problem is the lack of violation reports to set-up the stage for penalizing the milk companies. If no formal report of the violation is filed and submitted with the Inter-Agency Committee set up by the Milk Code, then there will be no basis to hold these companies liable.
It was very timely that the UP law students formed a new campus organization - UP Volunteers for Children. They had their first activity in May 2009 which was directed towards understaning the Milk Code and its Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations. They also had exercises on identifying the coverage of the Milk Code, activities being regulated and reviewing advertising materials/packaging of milk companies. They were a very enthusiastic group of students - they reminded me of myself when I was a young "hungry" law student :D. I was very happy to see a group step up to handle the monitoring of the Milk Code. They have set-up a website and you can email them if to report violations of the Milk Code. This is also a great project for Ateneo Human Rights Center to look into, particularly since AHRC has a Children's Desk.
Finally, the last speaker was Alessandro Iellamo of Unicef. Alex again emphasized the importance of vigilance in making sure that the milk companies act with the bounds of the Milk Code and its RIRR. Unicef in the Philippines is very active in promoting breastfeeding and policing these milk companies.
I was really happy to have attend the Milk Code Forum. In my previous post, I thought that familiarity with Code was sufficient. But after attending the Forum, I realized breastfeeding educators/counselors/consultants must read, know and live the Milk Code and RIRR. Otherwise, they become unwitting accomplices or even principal violators themselves - which makes them even worse than milk companies as these educators/counselors can be major influences in how a new mother will choose to feed her baby.

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