Is it the breast or the bottle - do babies have their say?

"Feed your baby with breast milk and he will grow up to be a human, and give him a bottle-feed of powdered milk, soon he will behave like an animal " ! It may sound ridiculous, and perhaps remind us of one of those granny-old theories used during the previous century to differentiate between good and bad effects of breast-feeding against bottle-feeding. From time immemorial, however, all mothers, the world over, have held strong traditions of breast feeding their babies until the emergence of multi-national companies with 'bright ideas' to condition the human mind and to create a new market forces & wealth for themselves in a new found industry of powered milk and feeding bottles.

Going back a few decades, bottle feeding was a product of the West. But over the years, as the developed West has been waking up to be wiser, more and more Western mothers have turned to breast feeding. In contrast, mothers in the developing world not only have been picking up the misguided habit of bottle feeding but the whole process has been turned into a fashion, rather than a convenience , being enticed by alluring advertisements of chubby, happy ( Cow & Gate ! ) toothless grinning infants on baby food labels and on glossy magazines.

Naturally, a healthy baby is any mother's dream. Therefore, it is not surprising that the seemingly conditioning advertisements have surely but steadily made its impact on the majority of mothers to lose confidence in their nutritious milk, while a whole host of companies cash in , on the vulnerability of mothers !

In 1988, Indian mothers were advised by a paediatrician in Bombay against this misguided habit of bottle-feeding. Dr. R. Anand warned that bottle feeding was killing a large number of babies in India and other developing countries. In medical circles, during this period, it was accepted that bottle-fed babies were at risk of developing gastro-enteritis which resulted in vomiting and diarrhoea caused by bacteria multiplying in the stomach.

In 1989, doctors, scientists and Members of Parliament in Britain raised alarm bells when it became public knowledge that an alarming level of Aluminium was likely to cause long term brain and bone damage, particularly in children. However, subsequent studies linked ALZHEIMER's disease to excessive aluminium in water. The metal was said to interfere with cerebral activity and high exposure leading to mental inactivity in old age. But there was no solid evidence to prove that babies were at risk from aluminium in infant formulae, thus the call for a ban on baby milk was allowed to go unheeded.

Dr. Anand, however, demonstrated how the COLOSTRUM in breast milk acted as a natural antibiotic, developing the baby's resistence to diseases. He maintained that even under-nourished mothers could produce breast milk for at least four months. His statistics ( 1980) showed that out of 200 infants 55.5% was artificially fed in India. The majority of cases showed no evidence of correct or hygienic use of baby formula. Consequently he campaigned for a restraint on the " Aggressive marketing of infant formula".

A subsequent survey showed that in Pakistan babies consumed an estimated Rs.165 million to Rs. 315 million worth of baby food annually. The amount of feeding bottles purchased over one year was in the region of 4.5 million. Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, The Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya and the Latin American countries have all fallen victim of the entrepreneurial strategies of the baby food industry. In an attempt to capture the market at the expense of the third world babies, multi-national companies have gone on record in supplying free milk to numerous hospitals and clinics of these countries

In late 1980s, The WHO laid down an International Code of Marketing breast milk substitutes which unfortunately was often unheeded flagrantly by many international giants. According to the code, companies shoud not have given free milk to another or organisation; advertise their baby food products in health/care facilities or through the mass media; and labels had to carry a statement on the superiority of breast feeding.

Multi-national companies who were wary of the sceptical West soon had to find safe dumping grounds for their products in developing countries and others where it was less likely to probe the quality of their products. During this period many names in the world market were found guilty of promoting their baby foods and related products abroad.

Once a well reputed Swiss based company was in for a particular hiding, when certain protesting groups announced an international boycott against them, following an immediate seven year boycott, which ended in 1984 after the company agreed to put its house in order. Multi-nationals have always maintained that the ' donations were made to poor missionary hospitals who had not money; and some babies in such hospitals needed to be fed by substitutes.

One of the giants in the baby food industry has always been insisting that there was a great need for artificial food on babies. " You have to provide a good nutritions for babies if the mother does not want to breast feed or cannot breast feed. There is nothing wrong with instant formula", they have been always maintaining.

Some companies have been defending their actions, in a tongue in cheek fashion, by putting absurd statements such as , " we do not promote it to the general public, all our products are sold through shops " ! They claim all data and promotional activity are given to the health authorities in the respective countries and the responsibility is passed on to them to teach mothers how to use their products.

Selling baby food to the developing world was the first attempt in a long list of exploitation practised by foreign multi-nationals on the third world. Even babies in those countries were not excluded from being guinea pigs just as rest of the people who were fed with new or banned drugs, food and other products by unscrupulous capitalistic elements who manage to get away with ' murder'. But the question remains to be answered whether the authorities who are directly responsible, in all those countries, for importing such products to the very detriment of their own nations' health are aware that they are being exploited ? Or is it a case of getting back to ' basics' , like the wonderful old granny theory ! So are all those authorities who fall prey to such unscrupulous exploitation really naive on the responsible decisions they take on behalf of their nations ? Or is it a case of, they themselves have been bottle-fed & now they do not know how to behave like human beings any more !