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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sleeping with the Enemy?

Have you seen the Sunday Inquirer Magazine last 12 September 2010? The cover is entitled: "Mead Johnson Nutrition - Feeding Hope to an Impoverished World". It was a paid advertisement by Mead Johnson with a story about how Mead Johnson partnered with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and an NGO - Kabisig ng Kalahi Foundation to implement a Feeding Hope Program. A couple of days earlier, a feature article in Manila Bulletin also expounded the benefits of this program. Strangely though, when you go to the online version of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, the Cover Story is not included in the list of articles for the 12 September 2010 magazine. I am again reminded of Nanay Ines' comments that the milk companies spend as much as $4B on ads and marketing campaigns.
According to the President of Kabisig ng Kalahi Vicky Wieneke, "[t]he Feeding Hope program of Mead Johnson Nutrition fits well with our mission of working arm in arm with fellow Filipinos to assist in providing children from poor communities with their nutritional needs. (emphasis mine)
But what is the Feeding Hope program? It is a "back-to back hot meal and milk drinking program implemented in modules among groups of 30 children. The program runs for six months, with the meals given six days a week. Mothers prepare the meals and feed the children together. In the community-based supplemental feeding program, malnourished children are provided with hot meals, milk, medical check-ups and treatments. Mothers are immersed in seminars and workshops that teach them about health, sanitation and parenting. The sessions also include spiritual values formation, natural family planning, and livelihood tips, among other information."
I'm happy to read that livelihood tips are also include but I still can't help but be reminded of that adage - that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him fish. I am very much concerned with the milk drinking program and provision of the milk for 6 months. Sure, for 6 months, the mothers won't have to worry about where to get milk (as I'm sure Mead Johnson has the budget to give it away for free!). But after 6 months, Mead Johnson's investment will start to pay off as mothers will now be buying milk (and MJ's Lactum has milk formula for kids even over 6 years old!). Plus, there is no mention of whether MJ is providing milk formula for babies below 12 months.
This feeding program (as well as Nestle's Bear Brand campaign) emphasized that milk needs to be a diet staple in order to be healthy. I am again reminded of Nanay Ines' presentation on indigenous foods - locally available foods are better sources of nutrients that are provided by milk.
It makes me wonder if it would be better to teach mothers how to make use of the indigenous foods or cheap foods locally and immediately available within their vicinity to provide nutritious meals to their families. The objectives of the Feeding Hope program are laudable but its partnership with Mead Johnson taints its commendable objectives. I can't help but think that it is but part of Mead Johnson's marketing strategy - bait and hook moms to ensure that milk (MJ formula in particular) remains to be a constant part of their children's diet ensuring a steady supply of revenue for the company.
Some other questionable marketing tactics of milk companies include: Babble.Com's partnership with Similac in its Breastfeeding Guide and WebMD's Breastfeeding Guide sponsored by Gerber/Nestle. I find that this campaign of Mead Johnson falls squarely into this list.

*Thanks Zeka for the heads-up.

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