Years ago I served in the Peace Corps in Brazil. What a wonderful and beautiful country with truly loving and compassionate people.
Yet, I shall never forget the horrors I witnessed when visiting a clinic for babies suffering from malnutrition (marasmus and kwashiokor) and related ailments. Their future was bleak: When infants and toddlers are victims of various levels of starvation, there is no hope for a healthy future. Their development will never catch up—physically or mentally. They can be fed every supplement and the best of foods but the damage has been done and it is irreversible. Some will live for a while; others will die shortly. All these years later, I cannot get the image of those suffering babies out of my mind—I am still haunted by the memory.
Who was largely to blame? The Nestlē Corporation! Even then, in the ‘70s, Nestlē’s bottom line was its only consideration (and seems still to be the case in the 21st century).
My Peace Corps group was given the responsibility of teaching healthy eating habits to rural families, teaching how to plant fruit and vegetables to supplement diets (a good thing) but also to introduce Nestlē baby formula to new mothers (a nightmare).
As many of us still believe today, there is nothing like mothers’ milk. Even if mothers themselves are malnourished, their milk (for the most part) will be nutritious for their babies (the milk takes what is needed even if the underfed mother suffers with a loss of bone mass and teeth). These undereducated but caring mothers naturally want what is best for their young children (as all mothers do) and are thus too frequently and unwittingly talked into methods (by big, internationally known companies that are supposed to know what is best) that are really counter-intuitive--producing what is more likely to be adverse results.
The lure? Free formula and the belief that the modern world would only recommend methods that are superior. Nestlē convinces these mothers and fathers that formula will protect their babies from childhood diseases. Furthermore, when its powdered formula is mixed with unclean, infected water, the effects are more than obvious. These children are poisoned.
This practice reminds me very much of John Steinbeck’s haunting book, The Pearl.
When the infant is bitten by a scorpion, the mother instinctively uses the “old remedies” to cure him. In fact, the child improves but. . . the city doctor in La Paz, Mexico (who had initially refused to treat the child when he believed the parents could not pay and because, after all, they were only Indians) seeks them out when he learns that the father has discovered a pearl of great worth—a pearl of the world.
This physician (you know, the one who has pledged to do no harm) secretly poisons the child and makes him worse. He then convinces these uneducated parents that modern medicine is the only way the child can survive. The mother has her doubts about his honesty but, then, should she doubt this man of medicine with all his fancy education when her child’s very life was at stake? The parents ultimately give in to his entreaties—only to witness the savagery that follows in the wake of the doctor’s actions.
Certainly, baby formula can be a good thing when alternatives are not available or the mother is ill or cannot produce enough milk on her own. On the other hand, when baby formula is introduced as the sole source of early nutrition, mothers’ milk will dry up. Sometimes as she sees the product dwindling, she will water it down to make it last longer.
Parents realize too late that they will not have the means to purchase additional baby product after what they have is used up. It is a fact that “expensive baby food can add to family poverty.” A dire consequence: When the mother runs out of formula, she no longer has the ability to breast-feed her child, and the baby suffers immeasurably.
Nearly 12% of baby deaths can be prevented through breast-feeding! And Nestlē must be blamed and take responsibility for a good many of those preventable deaths!
When the “discretionary” money for Nestlē foods is no longer available, there are no healthy alternatives left for the baby. The fact is that nearly 12% of baby deaths can be prevented through breast-feeding! And Nestlē must be blamed and take responsibility for a good many of those preventable deaths!
In the long run, the babies and their families are the victims. Nestlē Corporation is indifferent and doesn’t seem to care!
I soon realized during my Peace Corps training in Brazil just how insidious the Nestlē program was. I requested that I be moved to another program and was en route when I became very ill and needed surgery. It tore at my heart to leave the fine Brazilian people with whom I had come into contact, but I am thankful that I don’t have to bear the personal guilt of perpetrating this sham upon those rural families.
Once learning of the details of this cruel program, millions of people around the world began a boycott of Nestlē because of its continuous self-serving practices. The boycott worked and Nestlē promised to do better, so the boycott was called off (for me, it is hard to stop boycotting a company which is responsible for so much evil even if it changes policy).
Later, when the world learned that the corporation had once again returned to its malevolent practices, there was another boycott. As for me, I have never stopped [although I am sure because Nestlē has become such a huge conglomerate with countless subsidiaries, I (and countless others), on occasion and inadvertently, purchase and use Nestlē products].
On top of all this, just last week I have learned that this corporation is up to its old tricks again—maybe it never really stopped but now it is going even further with toddler baby foods (not to overlook issues over its bottled water). It is still pushing baby formula on its unknowing and unsuspecting targets, particularly in third-world countries. Babies continue to suffer and too many die.
Nestlē has been found to be “aggressively marketing baby foods in breach of international marketing standards.” It seems that if enough product is purchased to make the program worthwhile (before the victims’ personal income is depleted), the practice is worth it to the Nestlē profit line. The bean-counters are able, willing, and eager to rationalize the entire policy.
We should not overlook the responsibility of numerous nations for the deteriorating health of their populations. Those countries which do not have regulations and standards meant to keep these violations from occurring must be held to a higher standard and, as part of that, they must meaningfully and significantly penalize those companies which choose to perpetrate their self-serving, profit-driven practices within their borders.
Nestlē flouts the international standards, thus continuing to violate the rules that have been established to protect health worldwide (incidentally, another company, Danone, is imitating some of Nestlē’s recklessness in its own baby food marketing practices). We can no longer tolerate this attitude.
The Nestlē agenda is simply egregious and immoral and if we look the other way, we are not doing our part. If Nestlē (and Danone) insists on acting in a manner devoid of morality, then we, in turn, must do the moral thing and not patronize any of its products!
For more information and petitions to sign, please contact the following:
Baby Milk Action
34 Trumpington Street
Tel (UK): 01223 464420
Patti Rundall: +44 7786 523493
Mike Brady: +44 7986 736179
Let Nestlē know that its actions are intolerable, must stop, and be replaced with genuinely healthful policies:
Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, Chair
Nestlē Corporation S.A.
Avenue Nestlé 55,
1800 Vevey, Switzerland