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Speaking Up About Combatting Misinformation Surrounding Infant Feeding

By January 28, 2022 No Comments

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) participated in the Executive Board meeting of the World Health Organization January 24-29, 2022, advocating for taking steps to counter the misinformation about infant feeding and reducing the influence of private companies on government policies and on the public’s understanding of healthy feeding choices.

IBFAN was allowed to speak at the meeting as a NSA (non-State Actor) on the topics of NCDs (non-communicable diseases) and preparedness for and response to health emergencies, WHO global strategy for food safety, the need for sustainable financing for WHO, involvement of non-State actors in WHO’s governing bodies, but was not allowed to speak on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) due to a new set of rules regarding non-State actors which IBFAN believes may put the views of commercial interests above those of civil society.
Here are Patti Rundall’s remarks on the rules regarding non-State Actors (agenda item 21.2 and 21.3):

“Mandatory joint statements meant that for the first time, IBFAN made no intervention on the international code during an important reporting year. Allowing our statement to be moderated by those who may or may not share our aims would have weakened it and blurred the identities of NSA groups.

Perhaps the multistakeholder ideology, whether it shows credibility depends on it having a correct conflict-of-interest policy. In its absence, WHO’s  public mandate is in an institutional conflict-of-interest situation. The chaos around the statements showed why economic actors and the groups that have no democratic accountability and who undermine regulation of corporate malpractise should not be granted official relations in WHO’s governing body. The risks for global health are too great. Please, please correct this. Thank you.”

Here is Magadalena Whoolery advocating for stronger safeguards to protect breastfeeding on item 15.1 – Strengthening WHO preparedness for and response to health emergencies, and item 15.2 – Standing Committee on Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness and Response:


“IBFAN Network in over 160 countries calls once again for stronger safeguards to protect breastfeeding, a resilient practice that provides food, care and protection from the worst of emergency conditions.

The protection of breastfeeding must be included in the Intergovernmental Committee on Emergency Prevention and Management. WHO’s report notes that poor quality information or disinformation is a significant exacerbating factor during health emergencies. Monitoring shows that businesses mislead and exploit public fear and donate harmful products, claiming they build immunity.

WHO must strengthen its conflict of interest safeguards and help governments stop commercial infiltration into policy spaces and the undermining of WHO advice. Many government COVID-19 policies are not aligned with WHO recommendations and are now barriers to breastfeeding. This is a serious risk to child survival.

The climate crisis is upon us, micronutrient and other interventions during emergencies must be strictly controlled, culturally appropriate, and must not undermine breastfeeding or sustainable food production, food security and biodiversity.

Thank you.”

IBFAN also spoke about agenda items 7a, d, f, and j regarding the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), specifically on drafting the implementation road map for the global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs, recommendations on how to strengthen the design and implementation of policies to prevent and control their risk factors in humanitarian emergencies, the relationship of NCDs to mental health, and a workplan for the global coordination mechanism for preventing and controlling NCDs.

Here is Patti Rundall advocating for real legislation that does not present corporations as partners with the common goal of ideal health outcomes, noting that breastfeeding promotion alone is not enough.

“Public health messages are no use if they are undermined by disinformation.

A good example is the predatory marketing of ultra-processed products for babies that confuse, mislead and undermine breastfeeding and healthy child feeding. So please update the NCD Best Buys to stress protection and prevention. Breastfeeding promotion can backfire, and it opens the door to exploitation by companies whose budgets dwarf that of health departments.

What’s needed is real legislation. Using terms such as “partnership”, “trust”, “shared aims and values” when talking about economic actors is naive and it blurs the identities and responsibilities. Corporations have no democratic accountability, and public health policy decisions should be free from their influence.

WHO must urgently correct and strengthen its conflict of interest policy. Warning about collaboration only with weapons and tobacco industries is far too risky a model for member states to follow. Thank you.”

The ‘best buys’ Patti speaks about are a set of recommendations set forth by WHO as the most cost-effective ways to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The WHO report on Best Buys published in 2017 can be found at

IBFAN North America representatives included INFACTCanada (Betty Sterken) and INFACTUSA (Karin Cadwell and Linda Smith).

For more about the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), visit or see our profiles on the Our Milky Way blog.

More detail about the WHO meeting can be found at

Full meeting agenda: