The Case Against Reasoning

29 04 2009
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It seems absolutely inevitable, that’ll I’ll have to post about The Case Against Breastfeeding. The Rosin article is like dog poo – smelly, sticky, but it will not go away, no matter how hard you wipe it with paper towels. Once it’s in the fur, only a complete hosedown in hot water and shampoo will suffice, with some nail scissors on hand for the worst bits. So… here goes… hot water on and shampoo liberally spread about the rubber gloves, and some vapour rub smidged on my upper lip, so I can’t smell what I’m having to rinse down the drain…
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When Radio 4 asked me what I thought of the Rosin article, my response was pretty clear: this is what you get if you keep banging on about “Breast Is Best”. Especially if you keep banging on about it, in a society that’s disapproving of breastfeeding in general, and downright paranoid about it in public. The most pertinent point to me, about Rosin’s words (as opposed to the screeching that is accompanying them) is that she makes a point about being stuck at home, whilst her husband is out and about in public.
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Speaks volumes: a year at home, whilst he was enjoying public life. Three years at home, actually, as she’s had three kids that she each gave a year of breastfeeding too.
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And guess what? Her kids aren’t yet Nobel prize winning Olympic Gold medallists? In the playground, she can’t spot any difference between her kids, and the other ones… you know, the sickly, frail, dumb formula fed kids, coughing blood spotted phlegm into their dirty unwashed hankies. So she thinks about this lack of difference, and sneaks off into the forbidden treasures of the scientific secrets doctors’ know, and voila!… this breastfeeding lark is all a con. A dirty conspiracy to keep women down, and to… well, you know, I’m not sure why Rosin thinks everyone is conspiring to pressure women into breastfeeding: motive is a bit lacking.
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But what is clear, is that everyone is. Not only are they being pressured into breastfeeding, they’re not allowed to stop. Ice falls in the soup, and the tumbleweeds haunt the once fertile playground. She mentions weaning and she just knows everyone is disapproving.
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Note, no one actually says anything to her. She reads it in their eyes. How often have you stood in the playground and read it in their eyes, about how much the other mums don’t like you, to find they were thinking about what to make for dinner and wondering if they remembered to pay the gas bill? Yes, I thought so.
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So, my take on the Rosin article is; this is what you get if you bang on about Breast Is Best in a society that doesn’t support breastfeeding: women who feel duped. Duped that they sat at home and breastfed, when they’d much rather have been out and about, with someone else bottle feeding formula… but they sacrificed for the breastfeeding… and what do they get, a child that’s no different from anyone else’s! And here’s a woman that feel so cheated by her experiences, she sets out to prove how big the conspiracy that oppressed her was. I mean, is.
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Except… well, she’s not very good at science, is she? Like all of us, she cherry-picks the bits she likes, and then parades it up front as SEE, YOU WERE LYING TO ME ALL ALONG… THIS DOCTOR SAYS…
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Oh please, give me strength.
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I feel like the early scientists who stood in dumb struck amusement, when Erich von Daniken first started to spout his theories that desert paintings were ancient space runways of the intergalactic race that visited us in their golden chariots. When asked later on, why they’d not stood up and responded to Daniken’s theories before he’d sold several million books, and the need to discredit them was great… the scientific community sheepishly replied that they didn’t bother as they didn’t think anyone could possibly believe what he was saying.
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And that’s how it feels… that’s so how it feels. That supposedly intelligent, educated and articulate people, mostly women, can read the Rosin article and not apply one jot of common sense, or reasoning, to her conclusions… well, where do you start? How can you start when the person speaking is spouting such nonsense?
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Do you start by pointing out that it’s doctors and research scientists in the ‘proof’ articles, as well as the ‘proof against’ articles? Do you point out that Doctors are human beings, with their own agendas, and their own personal histories? Do you point to the mile high stacks of medical and research literature that was funded by tobacco companies, undertaken by Doctors, that proved tobacco was not harmful to health? Do you ask her to look into who funded most of the ‘research’ she cites? Or do you meet her single study on gastro-enteritis not being higher in formula fed babies, with 19 others which prove it is, and ask her to respond?
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No, you don’t. For that is just so woefully about letting others set the agenda.. all you do is spread the dog poo further: you’re making it worse.
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I think it’s more useful to look at why this article is being propagated so powerfully. What is happening socially: why it is being so well received. (And which, incidentally, is what I agreed to talk about on Radio 4 yesterday. There, that was a shock to you, wasn’t it? 😉 )
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Well, to begin with, there is the ‘pressure’ that no one in the article, or in the subsequent discussions has touched upon… the commercial interests in making sure that breastfeeding is slagged off at all opportunities. I imagine the corporate headquarters at Modified Cow’s Milk Central, wet themselves with glee at this article, and had it posted round the wires and news servers, and to their formula reps, within seconds. I know of an NHS consultant who is sending it out in email to people who’ve complained about his anti-breastfeeding comments. In facts, he’s now sending out both the Rosin article and the Today piece, as EVIDENCE of the… evidence in the Rosin article.
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Huh?
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No, never mind trying to work out the rationale… you’ll disappear up your own backside… like he has.
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In a world market of mega-billion dollar profit on formula, it’s not too much of a stretch to see that an article by an articulate, privileged, white middle class mother, who feels she’s been duped into breastfeeding when she could have been happily – guilt free – formula feeding, might just make it out and about a lot. Especially when she tries to portray it as a reasonable assessment of the available scientific data: a well known device by all commercial companies trying to sell us something that may not be utterly benign and healthy after all.
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Never mind that the actual science being presented, is pitted, flawed, selective and one dimensional. Never mind that the science on display is wholly unsuited for the purpose it’s being used for… never mind. Just concentrate on the words ‘science’, ‘doctor’, ‘medical’ and ‘research’ and take the profits to the shareholders quickly. Smile, hit ‘forward all mailbox’, and marvel that someone has come along and sucker punched themselves, and others, into completely misunderstanding, and misrepresenting, what evidence based research is all about.
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Forward attachment and laugh all the way to the bank, in fact.
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And, I’m sad to say… we’ve all contributed to this happening: we’ve all helped this sad little band wagon selling snake oil and fool’s gold along its merry path. Because we’re not very good at the science either. We continually misrepresent biology and evidence based research to mothers. We have spent decades talking about the benefits of breastfeeding. As I type, women are sitting in ante-natal classes, all over the globe, listening to the list of benefits to breastfeeding.
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And in the UK, the specific area I was going to talk about in the programme, health visitors and midwives and breastfeeding support workers, will all be talking to pregnant women – particularly first time pregnant women – about The Best For Your Baby. Breast Is Best! Some of those women will be so tired of hearing this party line, they’ll start to feel the debate is a bit one sided. They all know formula fed kids who are happy and thriving. And they all hear the horror stories of broken and bleeding nipples. They read the “my baby nearly died from breastfeeding” stories, and shudder. Most of them will have been formula fed themselves, and they don’t like the feeling of unease… that their own mother is being slagged off… when the list of benefits is being read out.
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Worse, the second time mothers… well, they remember. They remember being left alone in a side room with newborn twins, and being told to get on with it. They remember saying “This really hurts..” and being totally ignored.. or worse, told to grin and bear it. They remember breaking their hearts when the all knowing all seeing all honourable doctor said “You’ll have to give formula, but don’t worry, it doesn’t matter.”
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If it doesn’t matter on the maternity ward, how come it matters so much in the ante-natal classes?
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How can it be vital that they breastfeed when they are pregnant, but not matter one jot once they birthed?
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How indeed. Could it be that the NHS knows that breastfeeding saves them money… so they pressure health visitors and midwives to bang on about it… but that proper breastfeeding support costs money… so they don’t provide it?
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And isn’t this the cruellest joke to play on any pregnant woman? To tell her on and on and on about how she has to breastfeed… and then leave her to it when the slightest hiccup occurs. To give her five minutes support and then say in an exasperated tone “Oh I’m too busy for this, I’ve shown you how to latch the baby, you’re just not listening. I’ll see you tomorrow.” and walk away. And by the time you return tomorrow, the baby is sated and conked out on too much formula and you look into the tear stained eyes of the mother and say “Never mind, it’s just as good you know.”
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Or worse… when the mother who has made it, or for whom the wonder happened – totally happy baby totally latched on and feeding despite traumatic birth in the unit.. wanders into the 6 week check up and gets the pursed lips… Or asked to leave the doctors’ waiting room for feeding her baby… or told by the entire world she needs to give formula to get a good night’s sleep… or.. Well, I needn’t go on, do I? You can all fill in the gaps.
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“You’re still breastfeeding?”!!!!!!
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Mothers are going to feel pressured, if we’re not honest with them: and we’re not. Health visitors totally misrepresent both the realities of breastfeeding (damn hard work for most, for the first few weeks) and the science. So totally unable are they to present normative biology to a mother, as they are so totally unable to speak the truth, they perpetuate myths, and bang about the benefits of breastfeeding.
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Guess what? There are no benefits to breastfeeding.
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None.
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It’s the normal thing to happen. All that oxytocin bonding, the immunities, the perfect growth medium for human beings, the added hormone hits to combat stress and sleeplessness, the brain building chemicals, the oral-facial development… it’s all normal stuff. It’s what nature designed. Glorious, complex, mind-boggingly brilliant… and commonplace and everyday.
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It’s the biological norm.
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It’s what you do, to produce a perfectly wonderfully normal child. Just like Rosin’s normal kids.
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If you have a gene inside your family, that reacts to environmental stress for cancer.. breastfeeding won’t stop it developing.
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But more cancers will be triggered, in a cohort, if the children with the gene aren’t breastfed.
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Breastfeeding won’t stop asthma, or autism, developing, in a child with a genetic, or environmental trigger for it.
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But more asthma, and more autism, will be triggered, in a cohort, if the susceptible children aren’t breastfeed.
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Breastfeeding won’t prevent salmonella triggering food poisoning in a newborn.
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But breastmilk doesn’t contain salmonella: some formula does contain it.
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Breathing fresh air doesn’t cause cancer: but breathing smoke can trigger it.
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See the difference?
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Health visitors speak to pregnant women with a gag on: the gag that prevents them presenting the actual scientific matter at hand. A gag that prevents them from putting formula feeding into context: that not to breastfeed, increases health risks.
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No one has the courage to say it. Even the nice doctor they had on at the beginning of the slot, couldn’t say it. When asked to defend breastfeeding against attack, he talked about breastfeeding decreasing illness. Breastfeeding does not decrease illness. Lack of breastfeeding increases it.
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The other side of the Breast Is Best coin is… Formula is Fine. Formula is not Fine. Formula is Flawed. Just like Rosin’s article; it lacks essential ingredients. And has a few you might not like.
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There is less in formula milk, than there is in human milk. There is less physiological growth in bottle feeding, than there is in breastfeeding. Combine the two, and add in that modified cow’s milk destroys the natural flora in the new born gut.. and you have an activity that increases health risks in homo sapiens: formula feeding.
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And until we start telling pregnant women up front and honestly about this – they are always going to feel pressured about Breast Is Best.
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And until we give them a society where breastfeeding is upheld as a normal, everyday activity, some women are always going to feel sold short for doing it.
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Until children are welcome in public spaces, attached to the breast openly and with no censure… some women are always going to feel that breastfeeding reduces their options.
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Until breastfeeding is presented in the medical and academic literature as the baseline norm… that from which the intervention is measured, some women are going to stay confused. Making sense of masses of hard line research isn’t easy: results need highlighted. Whilst reports still say “Breastfeeding protects against SIDS”, and whilst women aren’t reading “Formula feeding increases the risks of SIDS”, women are still going to see breastfeeding as the ‘added on extra’.
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And if the ‘added on extra’ doesn’t result in a super human uber child – just a lovely normal healthy one – some are always going to feel cheated. This is no more pertinent than in the totally back-assed way of presenting the evidence on breastfeeding and intelligence. Whereby for years, women have been told that breastfeeding make their kids smarter.
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No, it doesn’t.
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For 90% of the population, breastfeeding makes their kids as smart as their genes and environment can make them. It gives them all their genetic inheritance. (The remaining ten percent have a faulty gene, that prevents their uptake of the brain building chemicals in breast milk.)
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So, that means.. for 90% of the population.. formula feeding makes their kid slightly less smart that they could have been. It’s not a lot, actually. On average, it’s only 5 IQ points. 5 IQ points are neither here nor there, if you’re a smart kid with smart parents and a good home background. Most smart kids with excellent intellectual development and good nutrition, can afford to lose dozens of IQ points before it shows up in testing. That’s why formula fed babies can grow up to be world renowned scientists, physicists and doctors: they were born smart. Smart enough that even a deprived background, with low stimulus and low educational standards, and no breastmilk.. didn’t hold them back. Even those fed on evaporated milk and karo syrup. They had drive, and determination, and enough raw brain power in place to succeed. They also have higher rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, than the ones lucky enough to get the breastmilk, but not the Nobel prize as they weren’t that smart to start with.
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But.. and oh this is such a big butt in Rosin… if you are not privileged and middle class and already born smart… 5 IQ points can be a huge deal. If you’re poor, undernourished, living in the slums and born of parents who were born poor, and in the slums themselves as babies and aren’t that smart… those 5 IQ points could mean the difference between a pass and fail, at basic literacy. Those 5 IQ points, could mean the difference between escaping poverty, and staying in it to breed another generation to the slums.
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And this is where my real anathema to Rosin’s article comes from: why the stench of dog shit is filling my nostrils. Because I believe it is simply unforgivable, for Rosin, and women like her, to bang on about breastfeeding as if it’s an add on luxury in our lives. For them to quite simply overlook the lack of breastfeeding, and its effects, on the majority population of women and kids on this planet. For women like my learned opposition yesterday, to state blithely that formula is only dangerous in the dirty water places, and then rant on about how there is no difference to the nice white clean and well heeled chattering classes. Even if that was true – and it’s not – it is such a totally ignorant and arrogant position to take. Where, in Rosin’s article, is the cost of formula feeding? Where, in Rosin’s article, is the never ending pressure to formula feed from advertising? She’s in the USA, where there is no paid maternity leave and the market is flooded with Code breaching adverts with happy little babies chugging down formula? But the article is about the pressure to breastfeed, as if she lives in an isolated social bubble where all that pressure to formula feed doesn’t exist?
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Maybe she thinks advertising, marketing and promotion doesn’t work and doesn’t change behaviours? In that case, what is she complaining about? She breastfed because…?
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We so have to stop shooting ourselves like this… next person to say Breast Is Best in front of me, gets made to drink a pint of formula made with cold water…
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The flaws in Rosin’s argument are so fundamental, so obvious… I could spend hours on it. She bangs on about breastfeeding meaning women have no time to themselves, they don’t get shared parenting support from their feckless partners, and not getting out and about enough. That breastfeeding gives them unequal status as women, in public, in private and as mothers.
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Yet.
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She never addresses these points as being the issue? The feminist agenda that these are real issues, and they need to be addressed, is simply absent. Problem: society doesn’t support breastfeeding and women who do it end up with a raw deal. Solution: formula feed.
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Huh? She doesn’t even talk about the cost of formula, and how just buying enough might be a problem for some of her oh-so-oppressed peers. Really, of course, she’s pointing out all her peers can afford it… so it’s a non-issue. She talks about breastfeeding being a sign of over-achievement? Not the wealth to pick and choose between several formulae with their ‘added scientific wonder ingredients’?
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WTF?
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Oh yes, and while we’re at it, she tells women who do breastfeed happily, willingly wholeheartedly… to stop going on about it.
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Why should we? We’re doing the normal everyday thing. The thing that you do if you have children: you give them access to your breast. That’s the way it works! If you don’t like that – fine, it’s your breast. But don’t tell the rest of us to shut up about how much babies need breastfeeding. And certainly don’t demand we prove they need it.
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Find me the evidence, scientifically documented and well reasoned with a thousand independent articles on how the human body needs kidneys, and I’ll happily find you the same on how human babies need breastfeeding. Of course, you can always buy your own dialysis machine… just as good, no different. Not convinced? You find me research articles that prove that dialysis machines are not as good as kidneys. Can’t find them? But you’ve found a few that point out that those on dialysis don’t die when their kidneys have failed? Well then, case proven – they’re just as good.
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No. Does not compute. Bad science. Such very very bad science. You make an intervention – you change the normative biology – you prove its efficacy and how benign it is to the complex biological system your putting it into. Not the other way around.
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But yes, we have to put our hands up, and own that this approach – trying to prove the norm is ‘better’ is our own damn fault. And we have to cut through all this emotional baggage and get to the heart of it: to reason. To look at the issues around us, and think with our brains and reason out the answers, not make knee-jerk emotional reactions.
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We have to stop seeing formula as angel’s tears: a sanctified liquid that is dropped gently from the heavens to feed our poor oppressed masses. When you mention women, infant feeding and formula risks, a blinding spasm of defensive shielding flips up… How Dare You Suggest…. how dare I suggest what..? That a commercially made industrial food source, churned out in massive factories in exactly the same way as pies, sausages and cream cheese, is somehow Less Than Perfect?
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The huge emotional reaction people get on hearing these simple, reasoned, facts, is quite alarming. Consider your own reactions to the following two statements; pretend I’m reading out a health protection broadcast:
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“Raw chicken may contain salmonella. Cook this product thoroughly in order to prevent food poisoning.”
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Now try this…
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“Formula may contain salmonella. Prepare this product thoroughly in order to prevent food poisoning.”
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Now, in the first one, I’m a hero of food protection! In the second one, I’m apparently saying “Formula is poison you stupid bitch and you are a terrible mother for feeding it to your child don’t you feel guilty?”
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Try these two:
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“Nutrition is best derived from natural food sources. Processed foods made commercially from factory farmed foods with a high level of chemical additives may not provide adequate nutrition.”
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Common sense? Reasonable? Reasoned and balanced?
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“Formula is a processed food made commercially from factory farmed food sources with a high level of chemical additives.”
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Have you gone nutso back there? All reason flown out the window in an emotional screech of “ohmygohdyoucan’tsaythat..”
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We have to apply reason to this whole infant feeding thing. Recognise that normative biology is just that – normal. That when we play around with it, we have to be careful, and assess the effects of the intervention, not the norm. We also have to strip off this uber-protective wrapping from discussions of formula – and talk about what it is: a commercial, for profit, highly processed industrial food compound. It’s so ironic that the very middle class women chattering on about The Great Breastfeeding Conspiracy, would not feed their kids a yoghurt with the list of ingredients on the average formula tub.
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And the yoghurt probably would only contain those ingredients.
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Here in the UK, if we want articles like Rosin’s never to appear again, we have to stop banging on to individual women about Breast Is Best. We have to recognise that a breastfeeding culture will save the NHS money, not an individual breastfeeding woman. If we want more women to breastfeed, we have to address the feminist issues that it raises: breastfeeding has to be accepted, and supported anywhere and everywhere, and mothers who wish their babies and children with them, have to be accommodated in public life. Crucially, in ante-natal classes, we have to stop talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, and highlight the risks of not doing so: we have to start talking about the increased health risks to those who are not breastfed.
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We also have to support all woman as individuals. Changes in breastfeeding will occur when society supports breastfeeding: pressuring an individual woman to carry all this for us, is just not acceptable. Mothers to be need to hear, and understand the risks to the cohort… not be told their child will be harmed by formula feeding. Many many kids will not be harmed one jot from formula feeding: it’s that you don’t know which ones will, and which ones won’t. Which ones are going to develop the cancer that they wouldn’t have got, if they had been breastfeed normally. Which mother is going to go on and develop the breast cancer, that breastfeeding would have allowed her to avoid. Understanding the nature of risk, is quite complex: health professionals need to have proper training to do this, so the message can be heard clearly, plainly, and openly.
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Breastfeeding support has to be put in place. Every woman who wants to accept her baby to her breast, is entitled to the care that ensures that happens.
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And every women needs to be protected from the overwhelming commercial pressure to formula feed. Something we are failing on in the UK, badly. If I could find the low down weasly cowards at WHO who are letting follow-on milk advertising through as not formula advertising, I’d rip them a new one.
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Not every woman will breastfeed you know. Some women have always refused their baby their breast: some always will. Stop seeing 100% breastfeeding rates as the nirvana: it will never happen. But we need to give every woman a fair chance: every baby deserves we speak up for them.
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Finally, a message to all those nice comfortable and secure middle class women, who are so cheered and heartened by Rosin and her message of wealth and privilege overtaking both common sense and normative biology, and who are celebrating her inability to read scientific research whilst walking and chewing gum. A message for those screeching “It’s the woman’s choice, no one but her should be getting involved. It’s no one else’s business. There is no difference!”
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My message to you all is this:
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Grow Up
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10 Downing Street – E-petition

28 04 2009

For all my new readers, popping in to have a look today… please go to the petition at Downing Street and sign:
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We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to bring in new and specific legislation in England and Wales, to make it an offence to prevent a parent or caregiver feeding milk to a hungry child, in any location the child has a right to be. We also ask that this legislation makes it a specific offence to intimidate or harass the parent or caregiver feeding their child.
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Babies and children need feeding regularly. Many mothers feel intimidated about feeding their child in public spaces, and are often subjected to bullying and harassment, and demands the feed be stopped and they leave the premises or public space in which the child is feeding. We ask that all children, and their caregivers, be given protection to allow them to be fed milk, regardless of type of milk, feeding method and location. Make it a specific offence to interfere or ask the feed be stopped. Babies and children deserve protection, as do their caregivers.

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More details, and details of this year’s Breastfeeding Picnics, to be found here.
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Dear Ms Gallagher…

23 04 2009
Dear Ms Gallagher
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DUCH GUILLOT Jaume <jaume.duch@europarl.europa.eu>
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In response to your mail of 17 April, I have read your letter, the mumsnet blog and your own blog with interest.
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I suggested in my reply to Tom Wise MEP that you had misunderstood the purpose of the advertisement, which was to demonstrate the importance of the work-life balance for men and women, and that I regretted this; I did not say that you had misunderstood the poster itself, but our intention. I am sorry that you considered my reference to my personal circumstances patronising: I intended it to illustrate the role of men to which I had referred.
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It is indeed the role of this office to respond to complaints and requests for information, actually one of its principal roles. My response to you was checked beforehand and approved by the appropriate superiors and was based on the following background.
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The European Parliament issued an international call for tenders last year for a publicity campaign to raise awareness of the 2009 elections. The chosen agency produced a number of ideas which were pre-selected by the appropriate officials and subsequently approved by a steering committee representing all the political groups in the European Parliament, and finally by the information committee of Parliament’s Bureau.
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It is my duty to defend Parliament’s decisions and I shall defend the publicity campaign until I receive contrary instructions. I might remark that I notice that opinions on the blog are divided; and secondly, that the issue has been raised with us in only two out of the 27 Member States, the UK and Ireland. Coincidentally, or paradoxically, these are the two Member States where we had difficulties screening a 30-second TV and cinema spot drawing attention to the 2004 elections, the first element of which was a quick shot of a mother breast-feeding her baby, see:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/may/22/uk.advertising
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To proceed to your questions, which I consider are really one: how does the European Parliament justify using the image of a bottle, given the WHO Code and the Blueprint produced for the Commission in 2004?
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In reply, I would point out that the code refers to marketing and
practices related thereto:
Article 2. Scope of the Code
The Code applies to the marketing, and practices related thereto, of the
following products: breastmilk substitutes;…. feeding bottles and
teats…
We would certainly contest any suggestion that the posters are marketing
formula, bottle-feeding or bottles, any more than the bottle clearly
visible in the mumsnet logo, nor that using the bottle image as an
antithesis to a working environment need be so construed.
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I should add that the European Parliament has a long history of support for breastfeeding, especially in developing countries, with which I am sure that you are familiar, including considerable legislative work on the plastic used in their manufacture.
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Finally, the poster campaign in the UK was commissioned for two weeks only, a period that expired at the weekend, so the posters should be in the process of removal.
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Thank you for your interest in the campaign.
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Yours sincerely
Dermot Scott
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Dear Dermot,
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Thanks for your letter, which is hugely entertaining and a wonder of political response! I appreciated mightily that your office had actually done a bit of research, great fun. Is this a ‘win’ then, when both parties retire bloodied but upright, and the posters sink out of sight.. as they were planned to? 😉 No need to reply, as I am enjoying this opportunity to learn how to speak Euro immensely. However, a few comments to share with you, and your alarmingly long cc list…
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First of all, I did enjoy the slide from ‘purpose’ to ‘intent’ with no breath taken between the two. It was an admirable slide out from the original comment, to your slightly refined position on it. Likewise, there were several excellent such little sidesteps, which I have taken on board, and admire quite openly.
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However, I do find the comment about there being no technical breach of Code, as you’re not marketing products in the poster, of lesser skill, as I made this point to you in my post. Having told you upfront Code didn’t exactly apply to the poster, I’d have liked to have seen some reference to the point that the EU using it was unethical, not a breech.
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But I’m like that – a tad.. focused. Pushy.
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I suppose the absence to the referral of the actual smoking gun – the EU blueprint for action is entirely to be expected: you’re hardly likely to mention the one thing you can’t get round. I don’t mind this at all, as I said I did enjoy the letter, and I’m very sincere in that. I have no doubt that the implications on what you’ve done back there, collectively, are now very firmly in the forefront of people’s minds. The posters are going going gone, which is sufficient unto the day.
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However, there is something of meat to be highlighted to you all, and since you are all now paying attention, I will wax lyrical for a few more moments of your time.
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The role of men is not to free women from breastfeeding their baby. Women don’t need freeing from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is deeply satisfying, and part of a complex hormonal dance between mother and child, that enhances and improves the health of both mother and baby. Bottle feeding is not the same, and sharing out bottle feeds, is a myth of the formula industry. If you look at the statistics, very few men share feeding, especially in the night, the mainstay of the myth. The entire concept of the male having a role in the bottle feeding of their baby, as part of a shared family value, is a house of cards, gentleman. (For there is no women in this long string of cc’s…) The notion that women who breastfeed are ‘freed’ by expressing and bottle feeding, is simply unacceptable, and not appropriate in any political forum.
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The issue is that women should be free to breastfeed, with a child at their breast, and still take part in public life. Our society needs to make that possible, if equality is to mean a damn thing.
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The uncommon phenomenon of the highly privileged using pumps and bottles to facilitate a social life, is perfectly acceptable in the individual, and utterly abhorrent in the global context. This is about human rights, gentleman, and the right not to die from a maggot filled bottle, because somewhere in the affluent countries, women can safely express and bottle feed. That many women have to do it to earn enough money to survive, in affluent countries, is not the point either.
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Many of your own, collective, preconceptions about the complaints to this campaign are firmly based on a highly affluent and privileged world view. A world view that took the complaints, in the main, to be about breastfeeding promotion and men using bottles to feed their babies whilst their wives popped out to get on with their lives. Many of your responses were about how much you supported breastfeeding, and how LOOK! over there, quick, you’ll see the campaign we did with a breast and a baby in it!
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Breastfeeding does not require promotion gentleman. Breastfeeding, as a threat to corporate profit, as a challenge to industry and working conditions, as a reflection of the role and status of women in our society… breastfeeding requires protecting from virulent and constant attack. That’s the message in the Blueprint, which you ignore again at your peril.
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And the reason why breastfeeding requires constant, concentrated and consistent protection.. is that the lack of it kills babies. The part none of you, apart from Struan, have gone anywhere near, as its too huge to play with: far too meaningful and of weight to even begin to play with, in this little dance on posters on the London Tube.
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But it is not something that we mothers will ignore, or allow you to forget. And on that, Dermot, or whoever wrote that part of the letter… the attempt to highlight the differences in opinion on both the posters, and the issues, by discussing the image on Mumsnet, is the single most revealing part of this traditional dance: the common tactic revealed – that of trying to pit mother against mother, based on feeding options, as a way to keep the real issues from being addressed. It was not worthy of you gentleman. Nor is it relevant: the individual is not the collective, and it is in the collective that public health policy is based. In the collective, lack of breastfeeding injures babies.
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Refer to the Blueprint yourself, for that message.
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I told you I was a tad persistent.
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Finally, and to return to the light hearted – you need to get a better proof reader back there guys! Telling me you support breastfeeding by acting upon the plastics used in its manufacture is just so funny, in context. 🙂
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Cheers!
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Morgan Gallagher
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Thank You Struan Stevenson, MEP

20 04 2009
.Lest We Forget The Point!
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(No, this isn’t the poster – see links below,
this is to remind you WHY Code was brought in!)
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A huge Thank You, Gold Star, and *round of applause* to Struan Stevenson, Conservative MEP for Scotland.
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Scots Tory MEP, Struan Stevenson, has attacked a European Parliament advert for its ‘inappropriate use of a baby bottle’ calling for the poster to be withdrawn.
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The European Parliament’s news service poster has been designed to illustrate the campaign for the forthcoming Euro elections on 4th June 2009. But, according to Struan Stevenson, the bottle undermines breastfeeding and is in breach of a strict International Code of Breast-milk Substitutes which forbids virtually all forms of advertisements and marketing methods for breast milk substitutes to the general public.
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The European Parliament’s ad asks the question “how should we help balance family and career?” and goes on to raise issues of gender equality, implying that women still get a raw deal compared to men in Europe and urging people to vote in the Euro elections to ensure better equal opportunities in future.
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Speaking out against the use of the baby bottle, Scottish Conservative Euro MP Struan Stevenson said:
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“The European Parliament really hasn’t done itself any favours with this advert. If the concept was to generate interest and raise awareness of gender equality ahead of the European elections in June, then why did it use an image of a baby’s bottle next to a laptop computer? There are so many other images it could have used in its attempt to contrast family and career issues.
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“It is frustrating to think that the EU has totally failed to appreciate the inappropriateness of this image. I intend to find out why this image was chosen and ideally I would like to see this poster withdrawn from use.”
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Email him and thank him. Politicians need to hear gratitude more than they need to hear complaints. Thank you Struan! (Who will understand the magnitude of that thanks, from a former Lanarkshire Labour Lass!)
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Coverage has been growing:
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The Observer managed to carry a small piece last weekend.
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Women across Britain are campaigning for the withdrawal of a poster promoting the European parliamentary elections in June. The poster features a laptop and a baby’s milk bottle above the slogan: “How should we help balance family and career?”
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The image has roused controversy among mothers who claim it “shows bottle feeding as a lifestyle choice to enable a
work-life balance“. Yesterday many people were using parenting website Mumsnet to urge others to complain to MEPs. Justine Roberts, co-founder of the website, said: “They could have used a way of expressing breast milk to promote the work-life balance.”
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Andrew Duff MEP, leader of the Liberal Democrat European Parliamentary party, said: “All agencies agree that breastfeeding is the best start for babies.”
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Gabrielle Palmer was interviewed by the Irish Times.
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Gabrielle Palmer, author of The Politics of Breastfeeding , is a long- time advocate of breastfeeding. She too has criticised the EU postcard. “I think it’s such an insult to symbolise family life with a bottle.”
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She says millions of euros is spent on promoting baby food and bottle formula in defiance of a World Health Organisation (WHO) code.
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“It’s very successful because they’ve changed the culture,” she explains, pointing to the shift from breastfeeding that occurred across the developed world once formula feeds were introduced.
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“To me, it’s a pincer movement between health service incompetence and ignorance, and marketing. They work terribly well together.”
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Food and Drink Europe.Com
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“The use of this image is thoughtless and careless,” said managing director of Real Baby Milk, Arwen Folkes. “The use of this image by a body such as the European Union sadly perpetuates the cultural assumption that bottle feeding is the normal way to feed babies.”
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His group, and others like the UK-based group, Baby Milk Action (BMA), have long been a battle to defend breastfeeding, which has been in decline as bottle-feeding rates have risen.
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The groups believe infant milk and follow-on formula is over-aggressively marketed, which contributes to this decline along with diminished infant health.
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“We are all working hard to change negative social perceptions of breastfeeding and to properly inform and support mothers to give human milk to their babies and thereby improve the health of future generations,” Folkes added.
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He called for the ad to be withdrawn and was joined by Andrew Duff MEP, the UK leader of the Liberal Democrats on the European Union who stated: “This image is not suitable to portray a family, other images could have been used, even a picture of a family.”
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The Parliament’s own media monitoring has registered the issue.
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Call to remove ‘anti-breastfeeding’ poster
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A poster promoting June’s parliament elections has roused controversy amid claims it presents bottle feeding as “a lifestyle choice”.The Observer reports that women across Britain are campaigning for the poster – which depicts a laptop and baby’s milk bottle with the slogan “how should we help balance family and career?” – to be removed.
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Liberal Democrat European parliamentary party leader Andrew Duff said, “All agencies agree that breastfeeding is the best start for babies.”
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There’s also been a huge roll through on blogs, especially political ones. Go do a search!
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Interestingly, and worryingly, the campaign itself is about to gear up, including displays in shopping centres with video links:
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Later in the campaign – from 4-30 May – 3D installations based on similar themes and multimedia “Choice Boxes” will be placed in city squares or shopping centres. The “Choice Boxes” will be a walk-in interactive multimedia booth in which voters will be able to record a video message giving their views and opinions on the choices facing the European Parliament.
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Aren’t well going to have great fun in those? If anyone sees the posters, or these interactive video boxes – Let Me Know!
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Dear Dermot Scott….

17 04 2009

Dermot Scott
Head of Office
UK Office of the European Parliament,
2 Queen Anne’s Gate,
London
SW1H 9AA
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Tel: 020 7227 4300 Fax: 020 7227 4302
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dermot.scott@europarl.europa.eu
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Dear Mr Scott,

I am the constituent of Tom Wise’s, whom you recently referred to have “misunderstood the purpose” of the EU Parliament poster promoting the upcoming EU elections. I have appended your email response to Mr Wise, who mailed you on my behalf, below.
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I should make it very clear before I begin, that I am a trained media analyst, specialising in semiotics. I have studied, and taught, the subject extensively, and find your assertion that any audience member can misread any media image, naive in the extreme. Both audience and reception are fluid, and there is no single hegemonic reading of any media image, regardless of the intent of the producer. Your answer that I, a mere constituent, misunderstood the true nature of the product, speaks loudly to me of your viewpoint on those of us so low down in the pecking order, that all we posses is a vote.
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I also found your comments about your personal circumstances utterly patronising. I could regale you with mine, would that make for some sort of debate on ethics? Likewise, who is ‘we’?

It is of note, that you choose not to actually address any of the issues raised in my letter, sent to you by Mr Wise, merely stated that you personally, or rather the anonymous ‘we’, were happy with the campaign. I was not aware you were in charge of the EU in its entirety, and your office made decisions on how to act on complaints and requests for information from MEPs/their constituents, as you saw fit from a basis of your personal history. I was clearly operating from a misunderstanding of my own: that it was the role of those in public office, and their support staff, to facilitate communications between constituents and the mega-systems of the Parliament. If I have further misunderstood this, and it is your role to respond to complaints and deem them not worthy of attention, and dismiss the concerns without acting upon them, please forward the relevant section of your job description and I will send my apologies.
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As I’m working on the assumption that this is not in your role, let us move on to the actual complaint I lodged via my MEPs, and which I, and others, expect your office to act upon.
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First of all, let me make it clear, that how I, or you, or anyone interprets this poster, is not the issue. It’s not about what we make of it: it is about what is there. And what is there, is a baby feeding bottle and a teat. It also does not matter one jot what is in the bottle. It could contain ambrosia from the Gods, or even Hera’s own milk, as it sprayed across the Universe. That’s not the issue. The bottle, is the issue. Something that appears to be a bit of a mystery to you, your office, and many of the MEPs contacted this past week from constituents, breastfeeding agencies, mothers, fathers, grans and loving grandfathers: all of whom have ‘misunderstood’ this nice poster. My understanding is that the Labour Party in Europe has called for the poster to be scrapped? Why, how can so many of us be so wrong? What possible reason could we have, for being so incensed that this image has been used?
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Well, let’s start with Code shall we? http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=52&iui=1
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In 1981, the World Health Assembly adopted The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The Code, as it is referred to, states some interesting things in its resolutions: it defines bottles and teats, specifically, as being covered by the Code:
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“The International Code applies to any product which is marketed or otherwise represented as a suitable to replace breastmilk and to feeding bottles and teats. Clearly infant formula, which is marketed for use from birth, is such a product. Other products may also be breastmilk substitutes.
* Infant formula
* Follow-on formula
* Bottles and teats”
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Bottles and teats Mr Scott. Not just the content of the bottle – the actual image of a baby bottle and a teat. Just like the one in the poster we are all complaining about. The one you think is fine, as you can read breastmilk into it, if you wish to. But it doesn’t matter what’s in the bottle, because it’s the bottle that kills babies in resource poor countries. It’s the bottle and teat – specifically shown in this poster – that is difficult to clean, and which causes illness and death, to infants, daily. WHO and Unicef estimate that 4000 babies die every day from inappropriate BOTTLE feeding, Mr Scott. That’s not inappropriate FORMULA feeding Mr Scott, it’s inappropriate BOTTLE feeding. Baby bottle. Have I got that message over? In the time it’s taken me to write so far in this letter, approx 160 babies have died from bottle feeding.
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Let’s look at what Code says world governments should do in terms of stopping bottle and teat images being seen by pregnant women and women with young children shall we?

5.1 There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code.
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Now that’s pretty clear isn’t it? None whatsoever. Now, I know the Code only covers health care systems, health care workers, makers and distributors of products coming under Code. I know the office that made this advert isn’t any of those. But I also know, there is a moral and ethical stance here. And that’s given the Code, it is entirely unethical, and inappropriate, for a baby bottle to be used in a campaign that targets the general public. And specifically targets parents. “How should we help balance family and career?”
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It is, quite simply, obscene, for this poster to use this image, in light of Code, and the WHA resolutions. And not one person from the EU had answered this complaint, in any way shape or form.
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I would like an answer to it please. How can the EU justify using a baby bottle in a fragrant disregard of Code? If you are not the person to answer this question on behalf of the EU, Mr Scott, please either forward it to the person who is, or inform me of their contact details. It’s a simple request, and one that falls within the scope of your office, would that be correct, especially as the original request was made through my MEP?
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Now, let’s leave Code, and move to the EU itself, shall we? Shall we try the following?
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EU Project on Promotion of Breastfeeding in Europe. Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding in Europe: a blueprint for action. European Commision, Directorate Publich Health and Risk Assessment, Luxembourg 2004.
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http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_projects/2002/promotion/fp_promotion_2002_frep_18_en.pdf
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This is an EU document, outlining EU practice. It upholds Code as the mainstay of breastfeeding protection (that’s where you’re forbidden from showing images of baby bottles and teats, btw, in case you have missed that) and further states that this is, or itself a Human Rights Issue:
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“Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding fall squarely into the domain of human rights.The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),3 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and ratified so far by all countries except the United States of America and Somalia, states in its Article 24 that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health … States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures … To ensure that all segments of society,in particular parents and children,are informed,have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding,hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents”
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And then goes on to state:
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“Finally, a programme for the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is not just a list of separate interventions. Interventions are usually multifaceted, interrelated and integrated in order to maximise their combined and cumulative effect. Moreover, the effect will depend on continuity, because a change in the behaviour of mothers, families and health workers, and of the infant feeding culture in a given society, requires that interventions and programmes be sustained for a sufficient length of time.”
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Hmm… it’s suggesting you all have to carry the weight, you know. Every department in every aspect of EU work, must, as an imperative, uphold and protect breastfeeding and Code… which forbids the uses of bottles and teats in marketing and promotional images.
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Further, in recommendation 2.1.5, the EU states the EU has to:
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2.1.5.To ensure that there is no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products under the scope of the International Code
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AND:
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2.2.2.To present exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years and beyond as the normal way to feed and bring up infants and young children in all written and visual materials relating to or making reference to IYCF and to the role of mothers .
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Oh dear. It all fell down a bit there. An EU poster specifically identified as being designed to speak to parents – by the EU -and it shows a bottle feeding image, and not one of breastfeeding? In other words, they have produced written and visual materials that breeches 2.2.2.
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And then we got to: 2.2.4.
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To monitor, inform and use all organs of the media to promote and support breastfeeding and to ensure that it is at all times portrayed as normal and desirable.
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Now, talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The health and infant feeding agencies of the EU, are charged with monitoring all media output from commercial companies etc, in case they break Code and portray bottles and teats… and the EU produces a massive billboard poster showing… a bottle and teat. Designed for parents… which includes mothers, does it not?
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So, my second question to you Mr Scott. Again, if you are not the person to answer this, please either forward it to the right person, or send me their contact details. How can the EU reconcile the use of the baby bottle and teat image in the current EU promotional campaign, in light of the recommendations of the 2004 blueprint for breastfeeding promotion and protection?
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It’s a very simple and clear question. One I hope to receive an answer too. I am, presuming, of course, that you don’t decide in your capacity of Head of Office to either just ignore this email, or decide there is nothing to answer for, as you, personally, don’t object to the poster.
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Looking forward to a prompt reply
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Morgan Gallagher, BA (hons) Film & English, Master Certificate in Media Education, BFI
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Constituent of Tom Wise, MEP, South East.

Dear Tom
Thank you for your mail and the attachment. We regret that your constituent has misunderstood the purpose of the advertisement, which is to emphasise the balance between work and home for both men and women. The work-life balance is important for both sexes, not just for women. A further point is that, nowadays, much bottle-fed milk is in fact breast-milk. As a grandfather myself, I have often bottle-fed my grandson with breast-milk expressed by his mother. We are therefore entirely satisfied that the image appropriately encapsulates choices to be made by parents, both women and men, in taking care of their children and for family and working life. Will you pass on the contents of this letter, or would you prefer that I should reply directly? I see that the mail was addressed to all East region MEPs, so I hope you will not mind if I send a similar mail to them.

All good wishes
Dermot Scott
Head of Office





Rate Your MEPs’ Responses

14 04 2009

A simple tick list and point system, to alert you to how well your MEP can read, and respond. Simple 5 point tick list for positives and negatives. Count up their score.
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If you want me to include your MEP responses in this main post, send it in via comments, with POST ON BLOG in the first line. Otherwise, it will appear in comments. Make sure you decide how you are to be identified, and you give me the political party and Region of your MEP. Give final score to each response.
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Accountability, freedom of speech, don’t you just love them?
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Positives
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1) Addresses bottle feeding images as main issue +50
2) Doesn’t mention ‘breast is best’ etc +100
3) Mentions and appears to understand Code issues +150
4) Responds to at least 2 points from your letter +200
5) Promises to raise issues with EU department/s +250
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Negatives
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1) Discusses breastfeeding and not bottle feeding -50
2) Mentions “women who can’t breastfeed” -100
3) Doesn’t mention Code -150
4) Hasn’t detailed any action they will take -200
5) Doesn’t answer any point/ruling you made -250
(Code, EU directives, LLL statement etc)
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****

An amazing -500, which the poster feel is generous, for Brian Simpson, Labour MEP for North West England. WH
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On Tue, Apr 14, 2009 at 11:34 AM, Brian Simpson <briansimpson.labour@virgin.net> wrote:
Thanks for your email about the EU advert. I don’t think this is to promote baby milk nor do I believe it was designed to cause offcence.
(sic) I am a very strong supporter of the use of mothers milk, unless it is not possible to do so.

BRIAN SIMPSON MEP
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Another staggering -500, for the North West, this time Den Dover, Conservative MEP.
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From: DOVER Den Date: Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 9:08 PMSubject: RE: eu advert

The EU have no idea how to operate commercially and sensibly in a matter such as this, as you can see. I object to our public money being spent on campaigns such as this – and always have done. Den Dover MEP
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How much are we paying these people? And then expenses on top?

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Had to move this one up here! A wonderful +400 for Nigel Farage UKIP MEP for South East. Emails still flying between him and the constituent who complained. Mr Farage very interested in Nestle being an ‘economic partner’ with the EU…
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A +250 for John Bowis, Conservative MEP for London.
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Very short letter, but positive:
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Dear Kate xxx
Thank you for writing to me about the European election publicity featuring a baby bottle.
I share your concerns and have written to the European Commission about this matter.
With best wishes,
Yours sincerely
John Bowis
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..





Signs & Symbols, Barthes & Bottles

10 04 2009
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Over the past few months, I’ve had to blog about bottle images being used in publicity materials and campaigns – none of which were for infant feeding companies. Many times, I’ve ended up in conversations with people who Just Don’t Get It. They can’t see why we need The Code, to protect us against formula and baby bottle advertising. They don’t understand how something as innocent and harmless as… a baby’s bottle… can cause so much fuss. Inevitably, many comment that it’s an attack on mothers who formula feed, and use bottles to do so. And every time this is raised the hoary old spectre of The Women Who Can’t Breastfeed is also thrown into the mix. Many people express their complete amazement that there is anything wrong, or even anything to get het up about, about using the image of a baby bottle. What’s the problem?
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Well, the problem is quite complex. Extend me some patience, and some of your time, and let me explain it all out…
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We live in a highly savvy media centred world. Images surround us, and images have power. They have rather more power than we might think. Some images, are so powerful, they have automatic, and obvious meanings. Meanings that are so ‘obvious’, that we don’t have to think about them. Advertisers, promoters and media specialists, use such images as a language to speak to us. We understand the meaning: we read the meaning without having to read any words. The images do the work. We don’t have to think twice about the images being used in the posters above, for example. We can clearly see that when you place a can of petrol, next to a battery, next to a green tree, and then we see the question “What should cars run on?” we instantly know we are being asked to interpret, and process, several very complex and convoluted economic and environmental debates. All that’s been done with three images – and simply placing them together.

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There is a language we use to describe images, and their effect upon us, and how we interpret them: semiotics. It’s how we analyse images and explore how they work. As a tool, it requires discussion and exploration of how the image speaks to us – what it means, as well as how we, the audience, accept that meaning. Some images have variable meanings: you need clues and context on how to read them. Some have very clear and fixed meanings: Universal meanings. We call all images that speak to us, signs. Signs usually require context, and written text, to make their meaning clear to us. The petrol tin, the battery, the tree, in the above poster, are all signs. As an audience, we have to look, make judgements, read the text, to make out the clear meaning.
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Some signs don’t need context, don’t need text. Their meaning is Universal: we all know what it means. A single red rose, for instance, means love. Romantic love. Just as the red ‘heart’ shape represents love. But it’s not the shape of a heart, how can that be? How can we look at these two signs, and know what they mean? We just do. They so fill our lives, with the same meaning, again and again, we understand that meaning. In a global world, these signs have a single, agreed, meaning: they are symbols.
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Symbols are very powerful. They work upon us subconsciously, and unpack their meaning in our brains before we have even thought about it. I bet some of the readers of this blog, spotted the rose and the love heart as they glanced down, and thought “Why is she talking about love?”, and it piqued their interest.
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Some signs are pre-made, artificially constructed, in order to be used in a very specific way. Such as the skull and crossbones on a bottle, to signify poison. Such as the radiation symbol used above: constructed for a deliberate and Universal message. Not naturally evolved, or emerged from culture, but sat down with, drawn, redrawn, looked at, worked upon. The meaning – the signification it carries – highly debated and refined. We’re used to dealing with such signs, and don’t really think twice about them. Sometimes, this can cause us trouble, when we don’t think through everything it might mean to everyone: when the audience changes. Take the Red Cross, for instance. The sign used to say Don’t Shoot, Aid Being Given, Neutral People Doing Good Things.
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Except, as we’ve found, it’s not neutral. It’s a cross: it’s Christian iconography. Where one audience sees it as a sign of good -others see it as a sign of repression and religious intolerance. So we develop another sign, for areas where we need you Not To Shoot: areas where the Christian Cross is problematic. We develop the Red Crescent, to be used in conflict areas which are primarily Islamic. But this, in itself, is not neutral in some eyes. Again, the audience changes, and the reading of the meaning changes: one culture’s neutral helper, is another’s threat of intolerance and so we must find a third sign – one truly truly neutral: totally made up: the red crystal. And the Cross, the Crescent and the Crystal, stand together, or separately, as and when needed.
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Some signs are manufactured commercially. Thousands, if not millions of pounds, is spent in setting a sign up, and promoting it, and upholding it, and developing it: so it conveys in the audience, a powerful and potent message. Corporate media analysts construct the image, corporate advertising agencies create messages in the audience that is designed to make the audience have both an emotional reaction, and attachment, to the sign. It ‘stands’ for the company. For the product. For the lifestyle that company sells with the product. (For no company ever sells you a product – they sell you a lifestyle that the product represents.) They try to create a symbol from their sign: they try to give it Universal meaning. They try to create, a mythology around their product, that supersedes every other interpretation of it.
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Sometimes they succeed, in part. Millions of people, worldwide, will look at the sign above, and automatically know what it is supposed to stand for: good food, cheaply and quickly. Universal standards of the same tasting food, every time. But audiences are more fluid than that: audiences rebel. Audiences have their own opinion. For every two or three people who look at that sign, and see hamburgers, another will look with a resistant view, a deviant view from that being pushed on them by the sign-maker. Many see the golden arches and think: corporate greed, exploitation, processed pap. You can’t control all aspects of how an audience will react.
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But you can try.
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Which brings us to baby bottles, and formula, and Code.
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For it was recognised, decades ago, that commercial companies had been so successful in constructing a sign, that it became symbol. It went from an advertising device, to a symbol that meant so so much more. It acquired status and power, and moved into myth. It constructed an emotional image upon the audience, so powerful, that it became ‘natural’ to look at, and to see it not for what it was, but for the ideology, lifestyle, and total world view it proposed. A worldview where science and hygiene, was to free the world from hunger, by raising wonderful rosy cheeked children, strong, intelligent, bushy tailed and bright eyed. Where the modern saviour of all ills – science and technology, was to meet the loving mother in the Nursery, and provide us all with an image that was at once love, nurture, nature, science, advancement, wealth, comfort and liberation.
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A symbol that was to give us a world where women were liberated from worry by the lovely men in the white coats, who had ‘rescued’ them from the need to feed their own babies with dirty contaminated inadequate and icky female fluids. Where the nurses in their impeccable clean and pressed clothing, face masks on, and the scientifically clean white coats of the laboratory, were to provide the new wonder food of the future. Where fat cheeked white skinned and blue eyed children flourished under the protective banner of the symbol of mythical abundance and love: the formula in the baby bottle.
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We are so used to seeing this symbol, all around us, we truly don’t see it anymore. We all grew up with babies being fed by bottle. Most of us fed our own baby dolls, by bottle, and fought hard for the new model with the new bits – real fluids to pour into plastic mouths and to flood into real nappies out of the plastic bum. We’re flooded by baby bottles as the image to represent the feeding rooms in shops and stores, we see babies in the street with bottles in their mouth, self feeding. We forget the difference between an actual real baby being fed, and a constructed media image. We see one, as the other.
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To the vast majority of us, bottle feeding, with formula, is so normal, that we have to think twice when someone objects to an image of it on a billboard? What? Object to feeding babies? What nonsense is that?
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But it’s not normal. It’s not natural. It’s artificial. It’s a construct. An artifact. We have made it up. We created it. It is a fabrication. The normal, natural, actual way to feed a baby is to put it to your breast and let it suckle. The image we have banned almost entirely from our view, is the real one. The fake one, the industrial product, is the one we have honoured with mythic status.
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The biggest misunderstanding about all this, is that when we object to images of bottle feeding, we are objecting to women’s choices to formula feed. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re objecting to the MYTH that bottle feeding is love, babies, motherhood and family life. We’re all objecting to the myth behind the symbol. We’re objecting to it because that myth kills babies. It makes them sick, it robs families of much needed income, it sucks the life blood from our babies and 4000 of them are buried, every single day. In a shallow grave as their mothers were subjected to a barrage of images of the mythic power of the baby bottle and its contents. That it will make your baby better, smarter, faster – just like the rich white kids in the USA and the UK. That when you buy the product, you buy the lifestyle of dreams: of rich, famous and wonderful health for your soon to grow up to be Someone Special baby.
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Where Science is rescuing you from poverty.
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And, of course, the myth is, in reality pitiful. The reality is disease, death and misery. Poverty and babies being fed coffee creamer, whilst their mothers turn them away from the breast, as the breast isn’t New And Wonderful and Scientific.
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Code recognised the power of this symbol to destroy lives, families and communities. It recognised that to protect babies, mothers and fathers needed to be protected from seeing constructed images of WonderFoood, constructed by vast multi-national corporations for profit. Protected from free samples that lasted long enough for the mother’s milk to dry up. Protected from the myth – one of the most powerful, all pervasive and efficient advertising myths ever created. One that wove into a culture uneasy with the role of women, and children. A culture that sought to keep breastfeeding women in the back bedroom, out of the public eye. A culture that prefered to seperate mothers and babies, and keep them in seperate boxes, so the male could control them both. That told women their breasts where for male pleasure only, and that they could ‘escape’ the Nursery and leave their babies behind and go out to work on a man’s terms.
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And when you took this mythic construct, into resource poor areas, this myth killed, and is killing, millions and millions of babies. Code stood against this, and recognised the global impact of the bleed through to poorer areas, of the saturation of bottle feeding images in richer areas. It stood up and said “No. Thou Shall Not Pass.”
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And everytime the baby bottle is used in promotional materials, like the Parliament posters, it strikes a blow straight through the heart of the Code. It reinforces and upholds the myth, and makes natural and normal that artificial construct.
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And that kills babies. Today. Tomorrow. For how much longer?
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People have asked me why I think the Parliament campaign has included the baby bottle. I think it’s very clear why. All four posters are raising serious issues that affect all of us, Europe wide. But we are a very diverse group, financially, ethically, and ethnically. None of these posters have any people in them. All use “neutral” signs to get over their quite subtle message. If you analyse the written text the posters are both not putting forward a ‘party line’ and at the same time, using images, that clearly outlines the ‘right path’. But not clearly enough that anyone could take offense: you can read your own message into them. If you feel that wind-power is economic nonsense, you can read the poster being neutral about that. Equally, the rest of us can see that in the decision between nuclear and wind: wind wins.
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But the subtleties of what’s the ‘right’ answer, is in the images, the signs, not the text. And it wouldn’t work so well, with real people in the poster. Who to pick to represent ‘Europe’ in the poster? A nightmare to get ethnic diversity right: leave out all people! No human beings allowed – it will cause too much contention. In wishing to speak to the whole of Europe en masse, humans have to be removed from the equation: hair colour, skin colour, eye colour, body shape, dress, hairstyles… no way to speak to everyone, in so short a campaign.
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But how then, to represent family and family life? Without putting a baby in? Ah.. it’s obvious.. use a baby bottle. The Universal symbol of babyhood.
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Who could object to that? Clear message, everyone can understand in one glance.
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Unfortunately, that’s true. That’s why Code exists. The marketing message was, and is, too effective. That’s why it’s an obscene use of the baby bottle image: it’s been chosen precisely because of the mythical ideology behind it. And for a political organisation not to spot that, in terms of Code? Incompetence on a bone chilling level.
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But there is another element to this, to do with audience. On why some of you can’t undestand why we make such a fuss, why we fight and fight and fight over these media images of baby bottles. I raised above, with the symbol of a fast food restaurant, the notion that audiences differ. We can make our own readings, within different contexts than that of the maker of the symbol, if we have a different background knowledge to that of the audience being targeted.
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Everyone who is screaming mad about this baby bottle being used, isn’t just doing it from an intellectual understanding of the issues of Code and baby’s health. We’re also doing it from an emotional reaction: we read the image differently. The actual image of the baby bottle impacts us, mythically, in a different way. A completely different symbolic connection is made in us, at a gut level.
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It’s difficult to explain this, if you’re still all wrapped up in the dominant mythology, so have a look at this baby, chugging 7-up, from a 1950s advertising campaign. Does it shock you? Can you feel yourself having an emotional reaction to the image? What about this one, of a sugar container being plugged into a baby’s mouth, like a bottle? Do you have a powerful reaction to the idea of something so unhealthy being plugged into a baby‘s mouth? Especially a happy glowing smiley baby eagerly grabbing its 7-up? Are you upset that an advertising company could so basely use a baby in promoting a fizzy drink? The presumption that it would have that effect on you, is why they use the sugar container in the health promotion one: they’re banking on you having that instinctive revulsion to the image.
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And the instinctive revulsion you might have felt when you spotted the 7-up bottle, is a shadow of what most of us who fight to protect babies feel, when we see a baby bottle used in promotional activity. We see the poster, and it’s a slap across our face. A powerful retch inside us that makes us feel sick.
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Why?
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Because we see baby bottles differently. The media image of a baby bottle doesn’t conjure up cosy images of cute babies, clean Nurseries and glowing health. We see filth and disease. We see dying babies. We hear screams. We glance at the baby bottle in promotional materials, and we react viscerallly to the horror of it.
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We see death and suffering. That’s the ideology that stands in front of us: that’s what the baby bottle signifies.
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Which was the masterstroke of War on Want placing the image of the crying, malnourished baby in the bottle: it stripped away the fake ideology of love and tenderness and scientific health, and replaced it with the reality:
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Dying babies.
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Unhappy, miserable, sick, screaming needlessly dying babies.
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And that’s the final insult. To take the image of something that will kill more babies this year, than the adult death toll combined for gun and knife deaths, and to place it up in front of our eyes and say it represents… family?
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To be so ignorant of the suffering of so many babies, so many fathers, so many mothers.. that you take the symbol of disease and put it on a poster in nice, affluent Europe, and use it in a promotional campaign to get people to vote?
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To be so ignorant of how many people in Europe are struggling to buy enough formula to feed their own, European Parliament babies enough?
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To pretend there are no health risks to formula feeding in Europe?
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When you see a media image of a baby bottle, you may see in your mind, and your heart, the gooey, soft focused, warm fuzzy glow of advertising myth. And from that position, be totally bamboozled by mine, and others, reaction to the image.
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But when I see a media image of a baby bottle…
…I see death.
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I see all the the real maggots crawling in all the real bottles.
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I see the tiny white bundles being put in the shallow shallow graves.
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I see corporate greed and profiteering, being put before baby’s lives.
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The ignorant and incompetent need to find another
‘neutral’ symbol for family, for motherhood, for love.
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The baby bottle doesn’t cut it.
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Our realities will not be airbrushed out of the picture:
Code will be upheld.
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But it would be nice if everyone understood why:
because a media image carries many more
layers of meaning than you might think.
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And can cause so much more harm than you could ever dream of.
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