Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Thirty-three years ago today, the World Health Organization adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (AKA the “WHO Code”) to promote breastfeeding and limit formula companies’ influence over women’s infant feeding decisions. Today, most health care facilities and the largest formula makers continue to violate the Code in the U.S. and worldwide.

To mark the anniversary of the WHO Code, more than 20 organizations and thousands of moms and citizens today are participating in a day of action led by Public Citizen, directed at the largest formula makers in the U.S. and Canada – Mead Johnson (of Enfamil), Abbott (Similac) and Nestle (Gerber Good Start). Participants are urging the companies to end the unethical practice of promoting formula in health care facilities, particularly through the distribution of commercial discharge bags with formula samples – a longstanding violation of the code.

Mothers and leaders are delivering a petition with more than 17,000 signatures to Mead Johnson at its headquarters outside of Chicago. The petition will also be presented to Abbott and Nestle. Thousands of others are taking action remotely, sending photos and messages to companies on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. A diverse group of consumer rights, public health, women’s health, corporate accountability and breastfeeding advocacy organizations are co-sponsoring the effort. The day of action is not meant to advocate against formula use if necessary but to focus on the need to give mothers information that hasn’t been influenced by formula companies.

Most health care professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. A large body of research shows that antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions among infants including ear and respiratory infections, diarrhea, meningitis and higher risks of allergies, sudden infant death syndrome and other health risks. Mothers also benefit, with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, ovarian cancer, post-partum depression and bladder infections.

Public health experts overwhelmingly discourage hospitals and doctor’s offices from distributing formula company-sponsored gift bags and formula samples – common marketing tactics – but formula companies still find ways to market formula in facilities nationwide. Studies show such formula sample distribution undermines women’s breastfeeding success because the practice is viewed as an endorsement of formula by health care providers. In 2011, then-U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin called for more enforcement of the WHO Code through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which requires designated hospitals to comply with the code.

Nearly half of the world’s countries have adopted legislation to implement the Code, but in the U.S. — as a result of formula industry lobbying and political influence— legislation currently remains out of reach.

But advocacy efforts have led many hospitals to end formula promotion over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) surveys, 27.4 percent of hospitals had discontinued the formula discharge bags for breastfeeding mothers in 2007, and by 2011, 45.5 percent had ended the practice. All hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have voluntarily banned discharge bags, and a recent Public Citizen and Ban the Bags report found that 82 percent of the U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals, and more than two-thirds of the highest ranked hospitals in gynecology, no longer hand out commercial formula discharge bags with samples. However, formula companies have increasingly managed to push formula samples in doctor’s offices and clinics, often without the knowledge of health care providers within those offices.

Diverse organizations are co-sponsoring the day of action with Public Citizen. They include the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (composed of more than 50 member organizations), the Best for Babes Foundation, Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International, the National Women’s Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, La Leche League USA, HealthConnect One, the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, the California WIC Association, Power U Center for Social Change, Breastfeed Chicago, the Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force, the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, the North Carolina Breastfeeding Coalition, the Coalition of Oklahoma Breastfeeding Advocates, the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition, the New York State Breastfeeding Coalition, United States Lactation Consultants Association and Women Empowered Systems Enrichment (WISE).

To learn more about the Public Citizen’s campaign to stop infant formula marketing in health care facilities, visit http://citizen.org/infant-formula.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.


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A photograph of Robert Weissman and Elizabeth Warren

Public Citizen’s president, Robert Weissman, with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at Public Citizen’s 2014 gala

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Note: Public Citizen honored Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with the “Golden Boot” award on May 14 at Public Citizen’s 2014 gala.

“In every fight to build opportunity in this country, in every fight to level the playing field, in every fight for working families, the path has been steep.

“Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hardworking people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups, those who have the power to fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor and everyone else gets left behind.

“Just look at the Big Banks. They cheated American families, crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the five largest financial institutions in America are 38 percent bigger than they were in 2008, at the time of the crash. They still swagger through Washington, blocking reforms and pushing around agencies.

“Let’s be clear: a kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot goes to jail, but a big bank breaks the law on laundering drug money, and no one even gets arrested.

“The game is rigged, and it isn’t just the banks.

“The rich and powerful have lobbyists, lawyers, and plenty of friends in Congress. Everyone else, not so much.

“So we can whine about it. We can whimper about it. Or we can fight back.

“Me, I’m fighting back.”

Add your name to Public Citizen’s petition supporting Sen. Warren’s bipartisan 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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In the aftermath of the tragic deaths associated with General Motors’ faulty ignition switches, two questions present themselves:

1. How can we save lives by stopping corporations from ever again suppressing life-saving information about dangerous products?

2. How can we hold corporate bosses accountable for suppressing life-saving information?

Last week, activists tuned in to an online conversation about reforms Public Citizen is advocating that will answer these questions and how to support those reforms by calling your members of Congress.

Miss the webinar? Catch up by watching the video below:

To make sure you’re invited to the next live online discussion, sign up today.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want American government to be run by the American people. Year after year, the Chamber is by far the biggest lobbyist in Washington, and this year looks to be no different. The first quarter’s lobbying disclosure reports just came in, and the Chamber together with its Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) spent $25.2 million between the months of January, February and March.

That’s $8.4 million on lobbying per month.

$280,000 per day.

$11,666 per hour (if lobbying 24 hours a day).

The Chamber has spent over $1 billion on lobbying since 1998 – more than the next three biggest lobbyists combined over that time.

Why does this matter? Big companies do a lot of lobbying on their own, but the Chamber allows them to do more lobbying anonymously. They can get all of the political capital without risking any of the consumer backlash that would come with attaching their names to their political lobbying activities.

A glance at the Chamber’s first quarter lobbying report shows it lobbies on such things as genetically modified organisms, the Clean Water Act, Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the “Coal Jobs Protection Act of 2013,” fracking and the Affordable Care Act.

The Chamber isn’t required to disclose its contributors (so it doesn’t), but we analyzed the size of its received contributions and found that just 64 donations made up more than half of the money it raised in 2012.

Big donors lobbying together on a massive scale, behind a veil of secrecy, telling the government what to do about our food, our water, our financial system, our employment laws, huge trade agreements, the fate of our climate, our access to health care and so much more.

As The New York Times wrote, “The next time a lawmaker or a corporate executive tries to persuade you that Washington is an even playing field, responsive to the concerns of all constituents, feel free to point them to the quarterly lobbying report of the United States Chamber of Commerce.”

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The tide is turning in the nationwide movement to end junk food commercialism in schools. That’s thanks in part to a campaign to address childhood obesity initiated by First Lady Michelle Obama. Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new rule which will limit unhealthy food marketing on school property during the school day, and the agency is seeking public comments on it.  The rule is part of the Local School Wellness Policy Implementation under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

On Friday, April 25, Public Citizen will submit detailed comments, and summary comments endorsed by thousands of supporters, urging the USDA to provide the strongest and broadest possible protections for students. We anticipate that our comments will be taken seriously since our School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenue report was cited directly in the proposed rule.

In 2009, junk food companies spent $149 million on marketing in our schools — with ads for sugary drinks like Coke and Pepsi accounting for 90 percent. And the marketing seems to be having some effect: In 2012, more than one- third of children and adolescents struggled with the health effects of being overweight or obese.

While the proposed rule is an important step forward, it has some potential loopholes. For example, the USDA should include a provision that urges schools to eliminate advertising of all brands that market unhealthy food, not just specific unhealthy products. Schools should also be provided the freedom to eliminate all food marketing, in order to streamline the process of monitoring brand and product compliance with the USDA’s Smart Snacks guidelines.

The USDA should also include a more expansive definition of food marketing to cover the range of tactics used by food and beverage companies.  Public Citizen and allies are encouraging the USDA to provide guidance to schools on the various types of marketing including, but not limited to posters, curricula, websites promoted for educational purposes or recommended by the school (ex. coolmathgames.com), vending machine exteriors, food or beverage cups or containers, equipment, uniforms, school supplies, in-school television (such as Channel One) and on computer screen savers and/or school-sponsored Internet sites. Additionally, branded fundraisers and corporate-sponsored programs (ex. McTeacher’s night), corporate incentive programs that provide children with free or discounted foods or beverages (ex. Pizza Hut Book It! Program), free samples and naming rights to school property.

Research suggests that commercialism in schools generally poses a threat to children’s psychological health, in addition to threats to physical health.  Children exposed to advertising suffer displacement of values and activities other than those consistent with materialism  and heightened insecurity about themselves and their place in the social world among other issues.  Commercial messaging in education compounds the overall effects of children’s exposure to ubiquitous commercialism while undermining students’ capacities to think creatively, critically and independently in school.

Public Citizen maintains that no commercial marketing or advertising should be present in the education context given its demonstrated harms to children’s physical and psychological health. But since the USDA can address only unhealthy food marketing in this proposed rule, Public Citizen will urge the agency to make its rule on food marketing as strong as possible.

We encourage citizens to endorse our summary comments to the USDA by Friday, April 25. Supporters should also sign our petition to keep commercialism out schools entirely.

Eva Seidelman is a researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

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