Since 2013, ARCH has been active in the process of revising the Codex Alimentarius Standard for Follow-Up Formula. Each year, the Helen Keller International delegation has attended the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) meeting, advocating with country representatives to make sure that this food standard clearly defines and regulates follow-up formula as a breast-milk substitute (BMS). The 41st meeting of the CCNFSDU was held in Dusseldorf, Germany from November 24 to 29, 2019.
Codex Secretary Tom Heilandt spoke of the important work CCNFSDU does in dealing with foods which are consumed by infants and small children. “The first 1,000 days have been called a critical window of opportunity for growth and development in a child’s life. Nutritional gains during this period continue to benefit the child throughout life, while the damage from nutritional losses also lasts a lifetime,” he said.
Important progress was made at this year’s meeting following significant discussions, negotiations, and compromises in order to achieve consensus, which is the manner that Codex uses to get to its conclusions. Many country delegates and NGOs worked together to include as much breastfeeding protection as possible in the standard.
Last year, consensus was achieved for follow-up formula (product for 6-12 months of age) to be defined as BMS. A labeling sentence saying, “Breastmilk is the best food for your baby” and other label requirements were made mandatory. This year, almost all elements of cross promotion were prohibited for such products, although the term “cross promotion” is not included.
- The standard states that follow-up formula for older infants (6-12 months) shall be distinctly labeled to avoid any risk of confusion with infant formula, the product for young children (12-36 months) and formula for special medical purposes. The text, images and colors used should enable consumers to make a clear distinction. The labelling of follow-up formula for older infants should also not refer to these other products, including numbers, text, statements or images of these products.
- The standard no longer states that products for 12-36 months are not BMS. While the draft standard does not state that products for 12-36 months are a BMS, the text specifically acknowledges that many countries regulate them as BMS.
- The text now recommends that products for 12-36 months have a neutral name, either “drink for young children” or “drink with added nutrients”. This allows countries to choose which term to use in their national legislation.
- As part of the efforts to reduce consumers’ confusion about these products, the words “formula”, “growing up milk” and “formulated” will no longer be allowed for 12-36-month products. This also prevents the name from making claims to entice mothers to buy the product.
Overall, labeling requirements for 12-36 months products were strengthened, including a mandatory message “Breastfeeding is recommended for 2 years and beyond”.
Looking forward, the cross-promotion text and labeling of the drink for young children will have to go to the Codex Committee on Food Labelling 2020 for endorsement. It is essential that NGOs and country delegates stay committed and attend this upcoming meeting.