Feeding Babies or Killing Them?


Some of my fondest memories of my Opa are the Easter mornings that we would spend at his house in Canada. My grandfather was an immigrant from Austria and did not do the egg hunt that is typical in North American culture. Instead he hid easter baskets for my siblings and I around his property. In them there would be an enormous chocolate bunny and various other small chocolates. When you think of chocolate which brands come to mind? For me there are two: Nestle and Hershey. While I typically think of Nestle for it’s chocolate, they are a bit bigger than just a chocolate company. They’re the largest food manufacturer in the world and sell many more products than just chocolate bunnies.  


Poster credit: Rachael Romero, SFPB

In 1977, a boycott was launched against Nestle and their breast milk substitute. The boycott is on going.

The issue does not have as much to do with the ingredients in the formula as it has to do with the target market of Nestle’s aggressive advertising strategies. The breast milk substitute’s original target market was third world countries. These countries tend not to have clean water or the money to acquire it, leading to millions of deaths caused by diarrhea and pneumonia.

Using the breast milk substitute is not inherently dangerous for babies. If it were, the FDA and other food regulatory associations would have already forced the product to be discontinued. Mothers in third world countries tend to be poor and illiterate. This combination leads to bad preparation of the substitute. Mothers will use less formula in order to make the product last longer. The babies are then not receiving the nutrition they need to be healthy which in turn weakens their immune systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 150 million babies die every year due to lack of breast feeding.Breast Milk Substitute

One of Nestle’s advertising strategies is to provide free samples of their breast milk substitute to medical centers and maternity wards in developing countries. Although Nestle has been sued, they have not been found guilty because their product does not harm babies directly.

After finding out about the boycott, I was taken aback. I don’t think it is going to stop me from purchasing Nestle products (I’d probably starve if I did), but it definitely shed a new light on the brand. It surprises me that a company with so many different product lines within a global market would still bother selling breast milk substitutes in third world countries. While the product isn’t directly killing babies, isn’t it the same thing from an ethical standpoint? It is hard to calculate how many deaths are caused by mothers improperly use Nestle’s substitute but is very clear that babies are dying due to malnutrition. Nestle could very easily stop selling the product in developing countries and this issue would cease to exist. Employees wouldn’t need to be let go and costs wouldn’t increase, Nestle would simply be making slightly lower profits. Food, water, and shelter are the three basic human needs for survival. When you’re the largest food manufacturer in the world, how badly can discontinuing a product line in a single demographic area really hurt your bottom line?


8 responses to “Feeding Babies or Killing Them?

  1. This post really highlights some of the major problems with the American food industry. While many of the large food companies we know are believed to be focused on our best interest of us, their customers, they are cutting costs at every corner and taking advantage of consumers. It is easy for food companies to make food that is appealing, but for food to be in our own best interests, we need to do our own research.


  2. This is a really interesting post and prompted me to do some research. The bottle vs. breast debate is dictated by many, many factors. For example, while breastfeeding, a woman can burn up to 500 calories an hour. Therefore, only a well nourished mother can provide breast milk for her child. This could pose a problem in developing nations. Additionally, the link posted below, states that HIV can be passed from HIV-infected mothers to healthy children through breast milk. These are just two factors of many. While perhaps Nestle should revise their communication and marketing efforts, it would be even more catastrophic if baby formula was not available as an option for mothers in these developing nations.



    • Those are some good points, Emily. I wish I had done some more research on the opposing view point because there are probably many advantages to breast feeding. It seems as if the debate is pretty even from either point of view. I suppose this is why the boycott has continued for about the last 30 years.


  3. I agree with Emily. If you are living in this developing country and suffering from, as you stated, a lack of clean water, then maybe directly breast feeding these babies is not best for their health. ‘Breast is best’ is a common slogan, and I would generally agree with it, but there are so many factors that have to be considered. HIV is just one of them. If Nestle is this big company that can afford to discontinue one of their products from developing nations, couldn’t they also bring down the price a bit? Mothers who were rationing the portions to give to their babies could then afford to buy more of the breast milk formula, giving their babies the proper amount they need.


  4. Nestlé’s actions in this case are very interesting. I understand why so many individuals have taken action against Nestle, but would these babies be better off with no breast milk substitute? I feel more inclined to agree with Emily’s point, because there must be some reason – either health or other – that is prompting these women to use breast milk substitutes. I think Nestle should send representatives to these countries where they sell this substitute and conduct an educational seminar of sorts. If these mothers cannot provide breast milk to their children, then I think Nestle is doing a good job supplying a much needed product to these mothers.


    • I agree with you and Emily. From what I understand through what Anders explained, it doesn’t seem that the people boycotting Nestle are understanding the whole picture. Instead of putting energy into actively boycotting the company because its baby formula is improperly used among its generally poor target market, wouldn’t it be better to invest that energy in supporting a program stemmed from Nestle that sends representatives to the target market for the purpose of education? While I think boycotting is certainly effective in some situations, however, Nestle is the largest food manufacturer in the world, so boycotting isn’t likely to change this problem.


  5. Here is another issue: it ,CAN be a life-saving product. My son was born tongue-tied. He lost weight his first week. I had to make formula and sort of let him lap it up till his mouth formed enough to breast feed. Point: it is especially tricky to criticize the product when it has real life-saving applications.


  6. Pingback: Blog Council: Our Favorite Companies | Stakeholders:Uncensored·

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