Vietnam to ban ads for breast milk substitutes

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HO CHI MINH CITY--Vietnam says it's banning ads for breast milk substitutes in a bid to promote breast-feeding among young mothers and reduce infant malnutrition.

Newly drafted legislation forbids the advertising of all breast milk substitutes for infants younger than six months. The ban also covers ads for feeding bottles and related products for infants aged six months to two years.

Information claiming that breast-milk substitutes are equal to or better than breast milk will also be outlawed under the new decree, along with offers of product samples to parents, health agencies and officials.

The new legislation has irked milk producers and advertisers, who argue it's out of line with international guidelines on the advertising of breast milk substitutes suggested by the World Health Organization.

"While we agree that breast milk is best for young babies, we believe that milk producers should still be able to advertise their products, especially as some mothers are unable to breast-feed," says Hong Anh, chief representative of J. Walter Thompson Co. in Ho Chi Minh City.

JWT currently handles the account for Vietnam Foremost Dairy, a $29 million Dutch joint venture producing powdered and sweetened condensed milk. Representatives of Vinamilk, the country's largest domestic dairy company, have also voiced concern about the decree.

Both companies have urged officials to look more closely at guidelines agreed to by the world health community before finalizing the legislation.

"The international code for the marketing of breast milk substitutes issued by the WHO has been used as a base for advertising regulations in numerous countries, including Asian countries," says James Gray, general director of Foremost Dairy.

"We recommend that the Vietnamese government consult practices in other Asian countries in developing a law for Vietnam. We sincerely believe that, given all the information, Vietnamese mothers can make the right choice for their own children," he says.

Copyright June 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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