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Doctors in row with govt over baby food

Dec 15. 2016
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By THE NATION

Department hits back after group of paediatricians complain about new bill.

THE HEALTH Department has dismissed doctors’ concerns that a bill to govern the promotion of food for infants and young children will backfire. 

The bill was prepared based on the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and will apply to food products for children under three, as authorities seek to prevent marketing gimmicks from discouraging breastfeeding. 

The bill, however, drew direct criticism from a network of paediatricians on Wednesday, prompting the Health Department to speak up yesterday. 

“The bill, if introduced into law, will just ban advertising. Doctors are still free to give advice to parents of children who need a medical foods diet,” the department’s director-general Wachira Pengjuntr said.

He added that the bill would not affect general UHT (ultra-high temperature processing) milk or yoghurt as claimed by the doctors. 

On Wednesday, a network of paediatricians held a press conference to condemn the bill, in which they said they suspected that the bill might apply to all kinds of milk. 

They added that they also feared that the bill would restrict them in recommending food options for young children, hindering their growth. 

“In fact, from six months on, babies can start taking other types of food on top of breast milk,” Dr Kraisid Tontisirin, a former director at the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s headquarters, said on Wednesday. 

Relevant authorities should instead control unhealthy products for children such as snacks with high sugar percentages, Kraisid said. 

Dr Sungkom Jongpiputvanich, who heads the Society of Paediatric Nutrition of Thailand, said at the press conference that while breast milk was important, children older than one needed to take other types of food too. 

“If you ban powdered milk for young children, which is useful, parents will see just the advertising of junk food,” he said. 

Thai Neonatal Society president Dr Sarayut Supapannachart said he was worried that the bill might ban the distribution of academic information at public forums. 

“Will our lectures on such stages be seen as marketing?” he asked. 

The network of doctors suggested that the bill should control food products only for children less than a year old.

However, Dr Siriwat Tiptaradol, a former deputy permanent secretary for Public Health and the first president of the Thai Breastfeeding Centre Foundation, said limiting the coverage of the bill would create a big loophole for powdered-milk firms to exploit.

“They will be quick to create milk formulas for children aged six months to three years, and advertise them,” Siriwat said. 

He said the World Health Organisation had asked countries around the world to embrace the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes but firms continued to engage in unethical marketing. 

As Wednesday’s press conference drew a strong reaction from the authorities, the Royal College of Pediatricians of Thailand released a statement yesterday saying that comprehensive information had to be considered in the legislation. 

“Our college and the medical council have no intention to promote powdered milk over breast milk,” the statement said. 

The statement said doctors had simply clarified that children aged more than one needed more than just breast milk for growth and development. 

According to the statement, none of the senior doctors attending Wednesday’s press conference had conflicts of interest. 

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