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? šŸ˜‰ 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. šŸ™‚
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Cheers!
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Morgan Gallagher
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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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Bottled Fury – Complain to the European Parliament

9 04 2009

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This image, of a baby bottle representing family, is once again being pushed on us in promotional materials. This time by the European Parliament. (It was seen as a massive billboard poster on the London Underground, at King’s Cross. If you’ve seen it anywhere else, please let me know.)
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It’s bad enough when Oxfam equates the bottle to motherhood… and the UK’s Conservative Party uses it in the same way… but in a democratic institution that’s supposed to protect rights and oversee the proper implementation of laws? In our name?
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Worse, it’s using the image to promote the need for our vote, in the 2009 elections. Obscenely, and I do mean obscenely, the image is used in a serious of postcards that highlights that the EU stands for green, healthy and integrated people centred values. The baby bottle stands alongside purer food, cleaner energy and green values, as the ‘better alternative’?
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Let me get that straight? The BPA filled plastic bottle, being delivered into a baby’s mouth by a silicon teat, containing an expensive and highly profitable industrial food product made of dehydrated cow’s milk, which may or may not contain, salmonella, e. sakazakii, melamine… and which has untested chemically created ‘new’ ingredients and no known ingredients list… is the healthy green alternative? It stands up there with wind power, organic free range chickens and bio-fuels?
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Really?
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And that’s before we get to the 4000 baby bottle deaths a day in resource poor countries? *Broken record. Fall off chair. Slump to floor, brains bleeding out of ears.*
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At least on this one, they can’t do the immediate response of numpties when you hit them in the face with their incompetence and ignorance of the issues: they can’t turn around and claim no one knows what’s in the bottle: it could be breast milk. If it’s pumped human milk, how does that represent freeing people up from long work hours, to be with your family? Does not compute.
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But on what level can anyone back there, in any political organisations that is supposed to protect human rights, not see the magnitude of the error in all this? In our name? Paid for with OUR money? In order to entice us to vote in the European elections, because the European Parliament cares for our standard of life and living, when no one else does?
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Oh yes.
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Oh no.
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Certainly not in our name.
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So, what can we do? (I’m presuming, we really don’t need to go through WHY we are doing it. If you’re confused – hit the links, especially the Oxfam one.)
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What To Do!
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Well, complain mightily, obviously. Long, loud and constant. This using the bottle to represent motherhood and family life has got to stop. Complaining, however is complex.
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Your Member(s) of European Parliament is first in the queue, if you reside in Europe. (My links are in English, but you can flick to your own language.)
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To get the UK map, click here. You’ll then get a list menu of the UK regions with the list of several MEPs who represent you. Yes, you have several.

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Me? I’m emailing the same complaint to them all. It’s only copy and paste.
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If you are unsure what region you are in, go to the UK Parliament site, by clicking here. Put your postcode in, and this will give you your MP. Click on ‘MEP and other details’ at the bottom of the page, and it will list your MEPs for you. The full list also appears here, with details of the MEP’s activities. Apart from the complaint, request your MEP investigate if any commercial companies have helped fund this campaign, in any way. Ask for the companies’ names.
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This is the letter I’ll be sending to all of mine:
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Dear
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I’m writing to protest, in the strongest possible terms, about the EU using the image of a full baby bottle in their current campaign to entice voters like me to vote in the 2009 elections. It is absolutely obscene that the EU should present to the public an image of a baby bottle representing family life and family values. 4000 babies die of inappropriate bottle feeding every day, and in order to protect the poor of the world, the international community has rules and regulations that seek to protect families from being exploited. The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 as a “minimum requirement” to protect infant health and is to be implemented “in its entirety.” How can the EU stand so flagrantly against Code, and use a baby bottle image in this manner? What is even more unbelievable, is that the bottle is partnered in a campaign about ‘greener’ issues that the EU stand for. The baby bottle represents family life in competition against long work hours, and stands beside green fuel and wind power in the other images, to promote healthier lifestyles. This is an insult to all the hard work being done currently, and over the past few decades, in protecting the health of the poorest children on the planet.
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As my MEP, I am requesting that you:
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1) Pass back to me the name and contact details of the most relevant person/contact within the EU, for me to make a direct complaint to them.
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2) That you seek an explanation from the relevant department on how this incredible mistake has reached the public without being spotted by someone with an ounce of common sense of understanding for the power of media images – and the existence of The Code.
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3) Let me know what your party’s official response to this postcard is. I’m presuming your party will complain in its own right. If this is not going to happen, I’d appreciate a written response detailing why your party did not feel it appropriate to do so, and a formal statement on your party’s stance on The Code.
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4) An assurance that no sponsorship or donations from companies paid in part, in any way, for the design, implementation and production of this campaign. If commercial companies were informed in funding this campaign, in any way, please obtain the names and addresses for said company. This includes feeding into a wider fund, that work and expenses for this campaign project, may have drawn from.
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I look forward to an early reply…
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I’ll keep you updated.

Update: For those still to compose your letters of complaint, you may wish to include a quote from this excellent response issued today by La Leche League GB. (Do note the link to the 2004 EU Action Project on breastfeeding images.)

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“La Leche League GB is surprised and disappointed to see that the image of a baby bottle is being used on posters for the European Parliament elections to represent “the family”. As an organisation offering support and information to breastfeeding women, we know how important it is for breastfeeding to be seen as the normal way to feed a baby and for women to have confidence in their ability to do this.
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Both the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend that babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months, with continued breastfeeding after the introduction of other foods up to and beyond two years. To use the image of a baby bottle re-inforces the belief that a baby will be bottle fed and undermines the positive messages about breastfeeding and a woman’s confidence to do so. It also contradicts the European Blueprint for Action* which says all media imagery must present breastfeeding as the norm.
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We would like to see this poster withdrawn from use.”
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Anna Burbidge on behalf of Council of Directors, LLLGB.
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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 Commission, Directorate Publich Health and Risk Assessment, Luxembourg 2004.
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I’ll keep you updated to other statement and links as they occur….





BMJ – Another UK Home Goal

19 02 2009

Wouldn’t it be nice if we thought they were being ‘ironic’, as opposed too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time?




The Party is not for Listening – Tories & Bottlefeeding

15 01 2009
On Monday, the Conservative Party launched a campaign video. It’s on their own party website, and their official YouTube one.
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It features a four week old baby, reclined back, being force fed from a massive baby bottle.
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From the political party hoping to be in charge of the Health Service. From the political party hoping to take over the UK’s global obligations on the world stage.
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From the political party hoping for your vote.
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Two truly interesting things about this. Mothers picked up on these images, and acted, within hours of the the campaign launch.
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The Conservative Party, four days later, has still to even respond to their efforts. It’s pretty clear to me – No One Is Listening.
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Personally, in an attempt to get an understanding of how this happened, what their intent was, and where this video was going to be shown, I contacted the Conservative Party direct. On phoning them, and explaining my business, I was put through to an answer-phone to leave a message. This was lunchtime, Monday. I phoned switchboard back, explained I had serious concerns, and wanted to speak to someone. Not possible. “The lady who answers information enquiries..” would pick up the message. “She was at lunch.” Could I speak to the press office? “No.” Can I speak to anyone at all? “No.”
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I left a message. I explained clearly it was a really important matter, and I required information.
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No one has replied.
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The next day, I emailed David Cameron. Explained there was no response, no way of getting through, could someone help?
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No one has replied.
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Some mothers, who have contacted their own Conservative MPs, were told their complaints were passed on. I’m not aware of any actual responses to the complaints.
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The bottle feeding images are still in the video. Despite it being perfectly clear that many people have informed the Conservative Party that this is a massive own goal in their publicity machine. That baby bottle deaths are a serious international issue. That their own credibility is on the line, in terms of them both understanding the global issues, the domestic health issues, and their own ability to listen to the electorate. The images are still there – they have still yet to respond.
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On the YouTube site, you can find people complaining – including me. No official response at all. In fact, one other commentator, has suggested the outraged complaints about the bottle feeding image, is a Labour ‘plot’ to discredit the Tories.
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As if.
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The Tories are doing all the damage themselves, I assure you.
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What to do about it? Well, direct complaints to the Conservative Party can be sent here.
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Otherwise… it depends where this video appears. Political parties can not put campaign videos on television, so you shouldn’t see it there. Sometimes, however, such videos are shown in the cinema, and in print. If you see these images, in the cinema, or in a magazine, then you can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. You need to be very specific about where, and when, you saw it.
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OFCOM wouldn’t normally be involved in such complaints. However, after I chatted with them on Monday, they said that as it is a political party, they’d like to be informed if people do complain, so complain to them as well. However, this is only if the video appears outside cyber space. Like the ASA, a complaint can only be made if the images appear in mainstream media: in the cinema, on a broadcast channel, in print. So, again, you need to state where and when you saw it. No one can act for YouTube and the Conservative Party internal website.
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If they act at all, that is.
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For, of course, we’re slam bang in the middle of more gray areas in the UK’s protection legislation on Code, and how well we do, or don’t, enforce it. The Tories aren’t selling you bottles or teats. They’re just using the images, blindly, and with no understanding or respect for the issues. They are acting irresponsibly, unethically… they’re being quite thick, really. Stupid. Insensitive. Ignorant. But are they breaching broadcast guidelines…? Only way to really find out, is to complain, and see what happens.
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Might as well, should it turn up in paid slots somewhere. It’s not as if they are listening to complaints direct to them!
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You can also report the video to the Baby Law Feeding Group, and see if adding your voice to others, helps somehow, somewhere. Sending them money for their work, would also help in the long run. Or sending money to Baby Milk Action, for the same.
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People do bottle feed. Images of such, in appropriate forums, such as dramas, documentaries, educational material.. they are acceptable. Especially when done responsibly, and with an eye to Code, whether it technically covers the material, or not.
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Nothing about the bottle feeding in this promotion for a political party hoping to gain Government, is remotely responsible, or appropriate. And the party’s refusal to engage with the complaints, or the issues, speaks volumes: gives out a very clear message.
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And it’s not a good message, in terms of gaining people’s trust, and garnering their vote. Or saving babies’ lives.
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John Lewis Replies

12 01 2009

I received this email today, and my reply is after.
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Looks, to me, like they Don’t Get It.
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Dear Morgan,
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Thank you for giving me some time to work on the questions raised during last Friday’s telephone conversation.

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As a company, we endeavour to deliver honest, impartial advice and service that is fair and balanced to all customers, whichever feeding choice they make for their baby. Customer feedback is important as it enables us to consider changes when evaluating ranges, services and facilities, to offer a comfortable and convenient shopping experience for everyone.

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The parent rooms in all of our new stores (Liverpool, Leicester & Cambridge) are depicted by a symbol of a baby. The facilities within these rooms now include a child friendly & adult toilet, wheelchair access, double buggy access, toddler safety seat and drinking water dispenser, all in addition to the original room features. Some of our older stores do still display the old parent room signage, however we are planning to update signange and facilities depending on the stores refurbishment programme.

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The concerns you raised about our online visuals has been taken on board by the relevant teams and changes will take place shortly to improve the quality of our message to customers through this portal.

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If you have any further questions or concerns regarding our initial conversation last week, please feel free to contact me.

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Kind regards,
Emi O’Neill
Press & PR Officer

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– – –
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Thanks for your reply. I do feel this falls very short of engaging with the issues on breaking code, and promoting bottle feeding. Especially in light of other customers replying that they’ve complained before, and been told there is nothing wrong with the bottle symbol etc, and one mother actually been told to stop breastfeeding her baby in your store.
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I’ll pass your reply on in my blog, with a copy of my own reply.
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Perhaps John Lewis needs to have a thorough look at its staff training, both in relation to the treatment of breastfeeding within your store (you can be sued under the Sex Discrimination Act for asking a mother to stop breastfeeding) and your ethical obligations under Code. In particular, you might want to look at how you record and note such complaints, as no one had any idea about breaching Code when I first contacted the company, and yet, clearly, many people have written in and complained before.
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I’m sad that John Lewis is not taking this opportunity to move forward by removing the bottle feeding signs immediately. Such a small thing to do, to restore your customers’ trust.
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I will, of course, forward on my complaints about John Lewis breaching Code to Trading Standards and the Baby Law Feeding Group, and encourage other customers to do likewise.
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kind regards
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Morgan Gallagher





John Lewis, Avent and Code

9 01 2009
I’ve been contacted this week, about a series of ‘infant feeding’ events being held in various John Lewis stores across the country next week.
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They’re being held by Philips AVENT, a known code-breaking company. Avent holding promotions and events to sell their products, in a way that breaks code often, is not a surprise to anyone. What was a surprise, was that it would be done within John Lewis stores.
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John Lewis is usually seen as a very ethically minded company. It is owned by its workers – its partners – and has a written constitution, that requires it to…
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to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law and to contribute to the well-being of the communities where it operates.. and that they ..must not take advantage of a customer’s ignorance, and must do everything reasonably possible to put matters right if it inadvertently does so..
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So you’d think they’d be a bit wary about working with a company so notorious for breaking code on its branding and promotions of bottles and teats.
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The initial promotional info on the John Lewis website, quoted a ‘special’ demonstration at its Oxford Street store, by a qualified midwife, Saturday 17th January, as an ‘educational event’. Now, I’m not an expert on Code, I just go by what I can fathom for myself as I go… but..
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8.2 Personnel employed in marketing products within the scope of this Code should not, as part of their job responsibilities, perform educational functions in relation to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children… seems pretty to clear to me!
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Other huge areas of concern emerged, as I trawled through the various advert pages, on John Lewis’s website, and in discussion with other mothers, I was told John Lewis use a symbol of a baby bottle, on their infant feeding rooms. ? I was also told by other mothers that some stores have direct connections with breastfeeding support agencies, and they felt the company was usually very breastfeeding supportive.
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On investigation, I also discovered that Avent, and bottles, and bottle promotion events, are in a somewhat gray area in the UK. Whilst the promotion of formula itself, under code restrictions, is very clear in the UK, the UK has yet to sign up to the World Health Authority marketing standard for bottles. So whether or not Avent are going to be breaking UK regs on code, depends on what they do next week, in their presentations – more on that in a moment.
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However, what is not in a gray area, is John Lewis’s commitment to ethical and responsible trading. So should they be hosting such events, in this manner? The John Lewis promos state that.. John Lewis Baby feeding advisors will be on hand throughout the week, with plenty of invaluable product information to help guide parents through the products they really need and how to get the best from them through product demonstrations. So I was left wondering where the line was… what was John Lewis, what was Avent?
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So I phoned John Lewis. They confirmed that Avent is doing the promotional presentations, and the store was only hosting the events. But that their own Nursery advisers will be on hand to help customers.
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They were very helpful, actually, especially when blind-sided with the sheer complexity of the infant feeding issues. Within minutes of speaking to them, I’d opened up massive potholes in their path, about the ethics of what was going, and specific code violations – such as the ‘educational event’.
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There was also issues about stating that an Avent employed ‘qualified midwife’ would give advice on products etc … was that ethical? In terms of Code, clearly not … but what about in terms of the UK midwife professional standards? That one got gray area very quickly too – some cites from the code from the Nursing & Midwifery Code state midwives cannot use their professional qualifications to market products. Even with the cite, (7.2 of the NMC code) I couldn’t find those words, only some similar but not exactly that phrase. So another gray area, in which unethical practices are allowed to flourish… another blog post there I feel…
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But to get back to John Lewis.
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I feel they’ve reacted really well. They actually took “educational event” out of their web promo, there and then, and reworded some of the blurb. I think this is a sign that they are taking the concerns of the ethics of these ‘infant feeding sessions’ on board. I explained that some mothers will be attending these events, specifically to look for code violations, and unethical marketing by Avent. John Lewis supports any mother who wishes to complain to anyone, and ask that if anyone is unhappy, to also contact them, and let them know of their concerns:
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“… if parents or customers have any questions regarding the in-store event, they should contact the Customer Services team in the relevant branch. We are more than happy to receive queries from customers about any aspect of our business and as a responsible retailer we endeavour to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law.”
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And, as I said, they have also already changed wording on their website (It’s not all in place, so I don’t know yet everything that might have been changed – but ‘educational event’ is gone.)
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Beyond this, a huge discussion opened up on their own corporate attitude to breastfeeding. This got very very interesting, and I’m reporting it from my viewpoint – okay? I had an informal discussion with one person at John Lewis, and we talked over a lot of stuff. At no point, am I suggesting that anything I’m about to say here, is representative of John Lewis’s opinion, or stating anything in any direction about what they think… but it was a very pertinent discussion.
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Initially, the person I was speaking to, from my press office contact, was keen to state that John Lewis sought to give impartial advice on all aspects of infant feeding – and they supported breastfeeding but needed to be seen as fair and impartial. Mothers are free to choose. This is true. But my point, was that they had an ethical responsibility not to promote breastfeeding as ‘equal’ to formula feeding, but to protect breastfeeding, as the normal feeding method. Therefore breastfeeding, should be their default, their first line in text and image. So the infant feeding sign in their stores, should not be a baby bottle – it should be the International Breastfeeding Symbol.
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Much of my discussion centred upon this John Lewis web page. Nothing to do with Avent, entirely JL’s own. Go look.
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Pretty shocking, ain’t it? So very ‘balanced and impartial’. I tried to explain to the nice person on the phone, why this page is so NOT balanced, so not ‘impartial’. That the token acknowledgement at the beginning about ‘the controversy’ and then flowing full into picture of a mother formula feeding by bottle, and an assurance that John Lewis would sell you all the products you needed to satisfy a hungry baby was not ‘impartial’. Where was the image of the breastfeeding baby? Where was the statements about not needing anything to breastfeed, but you and a baby? Where was the links to finding out more info on breastfeeding, if you needed it?
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Again, this was all taken on board, and discussed really well. I explained I understood very well, that there was no profit in John Lewis telling people they didn’t need any products to breastfeed successfully – they just needed a baby and a Mum. They said that wasn’t an issue for them, as they never sell a product no one needs, and never attempt to.
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And that struck us to the core with the problem with inviting Avent into their store like this.
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They may not sell a product no one needs… would Avent, a code breaker, do the same?
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Would John Lewis spot them doing it?
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Would the seemingly benign statement.. Hi, we’re here to show you everything you need to breastfeed successfully, we have pumps and breast pads and storage bottles and …. slip past the JL staff? Would the JL staff spot the huge issue here, that of sending messages to mothers that they needed all sorts of ‘stuff’ to breastfeed successfully? We discussed the huge ethical issue of companies such as Avent, saturating the market with the concept that every mother ‘needs’ a hand pump, and that ‘breastfeeding starter packs’ with pumps and bottles and teats are promoted as ‘baby shower’ gifts. We also discussed that pumps are a real sore thumb – not in code as the code’s too old, but really, ethically, pump promotion is a huge problem.
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That there is an entire world of subtlety, in the specific undermining of breastfeeding, as the norm. That companies, such as Avent, in my personal opinion, feed into this undermining, by how they promote pumps, bottles and teats as ‘breastfeeding friendly’. How they position their product to the mother.
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And that John Lewis, surely, should be protecting breastfeeding from such subtle attack? They should start every line on such pages as the Nursery page, with a comment about breastfeeding, and where to go for help and advice. And only then, having established that breastfeeding is normal and everyday, go on to give support and advice on other feeding methods?
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That breastfeeding, is ‘the default’. Anything less, is not protecting it. And, in fact, as we know, not doing this, means you are actually undermining breastfeeding, even if it’s never occurred to you that’s what you are doing?
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So, for instance, now I look at the ‘Nursery page’.. look at this wording:
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Thereā€™s been a lot of talk, and quite a bit of controversy, about which is best for baby – breast or bottle. As far as we nursery advisors are concerned, the choice is yours.
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This statement, I’d argue, undermines breastfeeding. It does not state that the NHS and WHO, and UNICEF, recommend breastfeeding. It creates an illusion, that breastfeeding and formula feeding have equal status. It designates the ‘controversy’ as some argument about mother’s choice. There is no ‘controversy’ in those terms. It’s a terrible abrogation of responsibility, on giving impartial advice – for it pretends impartial is somehow about not stating facts and known health advice.
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You don’t even have to move into the territory of discussing ‘the controversy’ to make this statement breastfeeding protective, as opposed to breastfeeding belittling….
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The NHS, WHO and Unicef recommend breastfeeding for the health of you and your baby. Mothers are free to choose to breastfeed, or to formula feed. If you want helpful links on advice on breastfeeding, click here. If you wish to look at some of our breastfeeding support products, such as breast pads etc, click here. If you need help and advice on formula feeding, click here. If you want to look at some of our formula feeding support products, click here. We have highly trained staff in all our stores, able to help you in your infant feeding needs, and we never try to sell you a product you don’t need.
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It’s not that hard. Put it side by side with a photo of a breastfeeding baby and mother, and you can still have your formula fed baby there too. (Although, I don’t know it that’s against Code, actually! šŸ™‚
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So, two points to make:
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1) John Lewis are aware that some customers have concerns over this event, and their breastfeeding portrayal overall. They have said they take this on board, and they will put work into looking at the issues, and seek to find a way forward that means they operate ethically, and remain fair and impartial to all their customers. Do your bit – let them know what your concerns are, and talk to them directly.
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2) Avent are having stands in John Lewis stores over the next week, starting Monday. And ten stores will have promotional events on Saturday 17th with an Avent ‘special advisor’. Do your bit. If you are attending, take notes, listen and pay attention – specifically when pumps and pumping are mentioned. Look for the moments where Avent ‘support breastfeeding’, and make such excellent statements as “No mother needs any product to breastfeed successfully.” and “Some mothers find expressing milk is useful to them. Hand expression is free and quick and easy.” and then watch them press ‘play’ on the hand expression video they’ve thoughtfully brought with them.
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As opposed to any suggestion that mothers need products, need pumps, tips on how to pump, with no mention of hand expression. Any comments such as “Pumping can free you to go out and do things, and allow your partner to bond with the baby by feeding the baby your milk.” In other words, any comments that pumps and their bottle products ‘free you up’ from the demands of breastfeeding. I know, they would never do that, would they? Position breastfeeding as The Thing You Must Escape From, to have a happy life? They’d never present breastfeeding as restrictive, selfish (depriving the poor Daddy of his feeding time) and something that will impinge upon the mother’s lifestyle – and hey presto, they can help by ‘freeing’ her from the need to hold her baby to feed it! Dang it, I’m so suspicious!!!
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Pay particular attention to any mentions of formula, or follow-on milk. Write notes, take photos if the store lets you. Watch how Avent use the bottles and talk about them in their displays. Especially words that compare their bottles, teats etc, to ‘breastfeeding’. Remember, formula fed babies require as much protection as we can give them: mothers don’t need to be told a product ‘is as good as’ or ‘close to breastfeeding’. They just need to know if it will feed their baby safely and that they can clean it to a high standard.
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If they do say something you object to, or that breaks code – report it to the Baby Feeding Law Group. And for code violations – Trading Standards.
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And copy John Lewis head office into things. They can’t respond to us, if we don’t talk to them. I’ll leave the final words with Miriam Labbock
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For optimal feeding to be considered normative behavior we must shift from discussing breastfeeding as a benefit and change to the recognition that lack of breastfeeding is a risk behavior. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to develop allergies, have lower IQs, die of SIDS, be obese as children and as adults, and have risk factors for cardiac disease in later life. They will have an increased risk of certain cancers, as will their mothers who did not breastfeed. Perhaps, most importantly, these non-breastfed babies will have deficient immune systems, rendering them more susceptible to a wide variety of diseases and less able to fight the infectious diseases that they do experience.
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Miriam H. Labbock,
MD, MPH,
IBCLC
Senior Advisor,
Infant & Young Child Feeding and Care UNICEF (2001-2005)
Professor of the Practice of Public Health in the Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill
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EDIT:
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ps I’m really glad you’re sending me your stories about complaints you’ve made to John Lewis about breastfeeding symbols etc, in store, and how things haven’t changed so far. But really, John Lewis need to see your comments, not just me! Please consider adding your comment below. You don’t need to sign up with blogger, send it in under ‘anonymous’ and just write your name in the last line. You don’t need to have an account with either Google, or Blogger to comment. šŸ™‚