I saw this question being posted numerous times on facebook and wanted to do my own research into this.  I have always been under the impression, and supported by my previous consultants, that follow-on formula was completely unnecessary and just a marketing loop-hole by formula companies.  But I wanted to really investigate for myself the legislation around formula and its advertising.  So what is the law surrounding this?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has an ‘International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes’.

  1. No advertising of breast milk substitutes to families.
  2. No free samples or supplies in the health care system.
  3. No promotion of products through health care facilities, including no free or low-cost formula.
  4. No contact between marketing personnel and mothers.
  5. No gifts or personal samples to health workers.
  6. No words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding, including pictures of infants, on the labels or the product.
  7. Information to health workers should be scientific and factual only.
  8. All information on artificial feeding, including labels, should explain the benefits of breastfeeding and the costs and hazards associated with artificial feeding.
  9. Unsuitable products should not be promoted for babies.
  10. All products should be of high quality and take account of the climate and storage conditions of the country where they are used.

On 1 March 1995 the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (SI 1995 No. 77) were adopted as law.   Importantly it stated, in unison with the International Code that:

a) No person shall at any place where any infant formula is sold by retail—

(a)advertise any infant formula;

(b)make any special display of an infant formula designed to promote sales;

(c)give away—

(i)any infant formula as a free sample; or

(ii)any coupon which may be used to purchase an infant formula at a discount;

(d)promote the sale of an infant formula by means of premiums, special sales, loss– leaders or tie–in sales; or

(e)undertake any other promotional activity to induce the sale of an infant formula.

This is the most pertinent point.  And the full legislation can be found at: (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1995/77/contents/made).

However, “The law falls short of the International Code in important respects.  Most notably, it allows advertising of products through the health care system, giving the baby food industry the perfect route to influence mothers.  Such promotion is in direct contravention of the WHO International Code which the previous UK Government claimed to support.  Now that the Government has changed Baby Milk Action is relaunching its campaign to have the UK Law brought into line with the International Code.” (Baby Milk Action http://www.babymilkaction.org/pages/uklaw.html)

The Law, with respect to follow-on formulas, ONLY states that: “No person shall publish or display any advertisement for a follow-on formula which does not comply with the requirements, prohibitions and restrictions relating to labelling contained in regulation 15.”  (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1995/77/contents/made).  This means that   There are hardly any advertising restrictions on follow-on milks so milks which look almost identical to infant formulas can be legally advertised on TV, billboards, wherever….”  (Baby Milk Action http://www.babymilkaction.org/pages/uklaw.html)

In summary, In the United Kingdom, infant formula advertising has been illegal since 1995, but advertising for “follow-on formula” is legal, which has been cited as a loophole allowing advertising of similarly-packaged formula.

On a positive note, the UK is trying to promote the Baby Friendly Initiative for example and hospitals can become accredited if they are able to implement these guidelines.  Also the “previous Government can be congratulated for setting up a multi-sectorial working party to create these guidelines, but it has to be remembered that however strong they are they cannot counteract the law. Advertising will still be allowed.” (Baby Milk Action)


So my research has uncovered some disturbing news – could it really be that follow-on formula is all a scam by the formula companies to get away with advertising their own brand of formula? Meaning they are not allowed by law to advertise their own brand of stage one formula because of the direct conflict with breastfeeding, but to get around this they have invented follow-on formula which they are freely allowed to advertise because of a legal loophole in the system?  I shall leave you to make up your own mind.


Comments to my article

  • An interesting article Ella. I wonder, however, did your research shed any light on whether chemically follow on milk is any different from infant formula? Because advertising aside, the manufacturers claim on te packaging that follow on milk is more suitable for a diet that includes solid food as it is fortified with iron and less filling, enabling the baby to have more of an appetite for solids. Is this true, or simply the message they wish to project in order to differentiate the two products and thus get around the advertising ban?
  • Hi, yes I also wondered that. Basically after 6 months the theory is that they should get all their iron from food and iron rich or fortified foods such as green veg, baked beans, tinned sardines, meat, fortified weetabix or readybrek and so on. If you think about it, if your baby was breastfed they would not be getting extra iron from breastmilk would they?  It would just be breastmilk which by 6 months has minimal iron and so all their iron would come from solids and they would be fine!  If you are vegan, then perhaps the iron is low in your diet and worth getting iron in formula or special vitamins. The department of health does recommend daily vitamins till the age of 5 yrs for everyone (but please not it is for vit D mainly as there is no iron in standard multivitamins for kids (see my blog: https://www.bereadytoparent.co.uk/vitamins-vaccines-and-vitality) but no-one seems to be doing this for some reason). There is enough IRON in stage 1 formula to last up to one yr plus – just that they cant advertise stage one as I said in the blog.  So they have had to invent something else to advertise and in order to get mothers interested they came up with the eye grabbing notion of follow on milk because your baby needs extra iron when really they only need stage one, solids and vitamins or breastmilk, solids and vitamins! By one yr old cows milk with food is fine. The only problem is if the toddler is over one and taking loads of cows milk and not eating then they won’t get enough iron but if eating well and on smaller amounts of milk, iron is fine in the body. Ella. www.bereadytoparent.com