When I started writing this post, I thought I might have a point to make. It turns out I don't, really. There's nothing new here. I'm too tired to try to excavate any sort of novel argument from my porridgey brane. But the link in the penultimate paragraph is worth following.
A month ago, when we were visiting Reading, ailbhe
had an assignment to look for portrayals of infant feeding on television. We watched for a few evenings, but whatever programmes were on were apparently not targeting a demographic that would be interested in such portrayals. We didn't see a single one.
However, I've kept an eye out since - I've been watching a hell of a lot more television than usual recently, because I don't have much energy for anything more strenuous - and last week, I saw my very first infant-feeding ad. You might know it. It begins with a mother breastfeeding an infant. Voiceover says something like "you always knew you'd give your baby the best". Image switches to a mother bottlefeeding an older baby. Voiceover: "Then, you probably switched to formula." Image switches to soft-focus toddlers in brightly coloured clothes, playing vigorously. Voiceover: Some pap about how great their particular brand of follow-on milk is (I am deliberately not recalling the brand, incidentally), and how it's still "the best".
So, no explicit claim that formula is as good as breastmilk, but a blatant equation of breastfeeding an infant and giving follow-on milk to a toddler, plus the reinforcement of the notion that the "natural" (hello?) progression goes breastmilk>formula>follow-on milk.
Which, I suppose, for many people, it does.
I hate that. Why does it make me so angry? Aren't companies allowed to advertise their products? And shouldn't people have the right to choose how they nourish their babies? Well, ultimately, within reason, they should. Women are entitled to choose not to breastfeed, or to wean early - or, indeed, to breastfeed their children for four or five years - if that's what works best for them and their families.
But the problem is, breast versus bottle is a health issue, NOT a straightforward "consumer" choice. And the deliberate and calculated skewing of that choice by cynical marketing campaigns on behalf of huge, obscenely rich corporations - including the creation of a whole new product
(follow-on milk) designed to get around the restrictions on advertising infant formula - is pernicious and wrong.
At least, in the West, formula feeding merely increases certain health risks (by levels that, depending on a mother's circumstances, may represent the best option), as opposed to being a matter of life and death. George Monbiot wrote this week about G8's empty promises, and specifically about the situation in the Philippines
, where the government is being prevented by international pressure from implementing the WHO code on the marketing of infant formula. "Every year, according to the World Health Organisation, some 16,000 Filipino children die as a result of 'inappropriate feeding practices'" - while many more become iller than they would have been if breastfed.
But, you know, at the end of the day, they're only furrin babies. Western corporations' profits are clearly MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.