Baby show urged to rethink sponsor

Academics and the HSE’s National Breastfeeding Coordinator have written to the organisers of the country’s biggest pregnancy and baby show asking them to reconsider its choice of sponsor.

The SMA Baby Club Pregnancy and Baby Fair takes place at the RDS on September 29 and 30. In the letter addressed to organisers Claire Finnan and Jennifer Shaw, the group claimed the choice of SMA as sponsor breached the World Health Organisation Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

The letter, sent to Huggy Bloom Enterprises, is signed by Laura McHugh, HSE national breastfeeding co-ordinator; Margaret Murphy, lecturer in midwifery at UCC; Liz O’Sullivan, lecturer in nutrition at Dublin Institute of Technology; and Marita Hennessy, BSc of the Health Behaviour Change Research Group at NUI Galway, and others.

Voicing concerns of the signatories, i

It said: “Hosting an event that has a headline sponsor of a baby milk company not only breaches the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes but use of a brand name and its Baby Club very specifically draws attention to infant formula.

“We are particularly concerned that this event requires attendees to register with the SMA Baby Club in order to receive a free ticket to attend.”

“SMA will therefore have contact details of all pregnant women attending the event and will use this information to market their products, which will have a negative impact on a mother’s breastfeeding journey.”

“The timing of the baby milk sponsored pregnancy and baby fair also diverts attention from National Breastfeeding Week which takes place October 1-7, 2018.

“We are aware that concerns about overt marketing of an infant formula brand have been brought to your attention previously; we now appeal to you to reconsider this sponsorship since parents’ and society’s confidence in breastfeeding is undermined by the promotion of breastmilk substitutes.”

The letter, which also refers to Ireland’s low rates of breastfeeding, was also sent to Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health.

Both Huggy Bloom Enterprises and Nestle Ireland said all its activities are compliant with the EU directive and the Irish legislation related to the marketing of breast milk substitutes.

The event organisers said: “We are very proud of our show and our long-running sponsorship with SMA Baby Club. As with any event, there are a number of ways to access tickets — attendees can purchase tickets at the door of the RDS on the days of the event, they can purchase tickets online via Ticketmaster, or they can register to secure one of a limited number of free tickets from a range of our sponsors and exhibitors.

“Anybody who signs up for free tickets via SMA has the option to opt out from receiving information from SMA Baby Club, in line with GDPR requirements.”

A Nestlé spokesperson said: “This is our ninth year as a sponsor of the Pregnancy and Baby Fair. It is always a great event and we are proud to be involved as a supporter and a participant.

“We have not, and will not, be promoting infant formula through this event but instead we will again take the opportunity to let mums know about the SMA Baby Club service, which provides useful information for pregnancy, baby’s development and the importance of breastfeeding, with tips on how to breastfeed successfully.”

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