A private member’s bill aimed at restricting the ability of baby formula
companies to supply their products free of charge in hospital maternity wards
aroused a heated argument among legislators, Health Ministry officials and
doctors in the Knesset Economics Committee on Wednesday.
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initiated by MK Danny Danon (Likud), would prohibit hospitals from providing
bottles of formula from a single company, something critics say can lead to
aggressive marketing and the discouragement of breast feeding at
But opposition to the bill came from a surprising source –
Prof. Avinoam Reches, head of the ethics bureau of the Israel
Medical Association, said that changing the behavior of mothers to encourage
breast feeding should be done through information and education, and not by
“The state should not introduce a law into the narrow space
between the nursing mother’s breast and the newborn baby’s mouth,” he said
Reches’s position was supported by the Israel Neonatology
Society, the Israel Pediatrics Society and the Hospital Directors Association,
whose members would lose millions of shekels in gifts and cash from the formula
Reches said that in most cases, a mother decides whether or
not to breast feed while she is still pregnant.
Thus, information must be
directed to pregnant women and not to those who have already
Difficulty in breast feeding during the first two days is the
most important factor in whether a woman gives her infant formula or not, he
said, and a law will not solve this medical problem. There is an urgent need to
increase the number of breast feeding counsellors in the hospitals, he
The IMA said that a number of changes could be made in the bill
that would allow brand labels of formula to appear on bottles in maternity wards
but require hospitals to offer at least two different brands, and not grant
exclusivity to just one.
Reches said that formula companies should be
required to donate a certain percentage of their income to pay the salaries of
breast feeding counsellors in the hospitals.
After the Remedia scandal,
in which the lack of a B vitamin in that company’s soybased formula led to the
deaths of several babies and disabilities in others, it is unthinkable that a
mother would receive an unmarked bottle and give it to her baby, Reches
Danon, however, said the country had signed an international treaty
to discourage aggressive marketing and advertising of baby formula.
revealed that formula companies give hospitals NIS 50 million annually for
MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima), an
obstetrician/gynecologist, said the Knesset had no right to make women who
choose not to breast feed feel as if they were inferior mothers.
we MKs to intervene in the mother’s right to breast feed [or not] and to dare to
force women regarding what to choose?” Adatto declared.
She added that
the timing of the bill was suspect because Teva Pharmaceuticals had recently put
a new infant formula on the market.
“Was it a coincidence that a bill
comes now that disrupts existing agreements between the other formula companies
and the hospitals?” she asked.
“Bringing order to formula marketing in
hospitals is the job of the Health Ministry and not the Knesset. The ministry
could easily set down rules for rotation among the companies, and we should not
Dr. Mati Berkovich, head of the pediatric society, said he
favored representation by all formula companies in maternity departments, with
the mothers making their own choice.
“We at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center
receive from the companies money to do important things,” Berkovich said. “We
could not have established a new room for nursing mothers, hired breast feeding
counsellors or medical clowns without it.” Economics Committee chairman MK
Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) said the committee would not approve a bill without
dealing with the “failure that creates monopolies in marketing formula in
A representative of the Health Ministry said it wanted
hospitals to receive donations from the companies, although companies should not
have monopolies there. The ministry said it and other ministries had “updated”
Danon’s bill so as not to completely prevent company gifts, but to stress the
ability of mothers to choose among competing formula companies.
Nachman Shai (Kadima) urged Danon to withdraw his bill, saying it was a “deep
and superfluous intervention in the way parents raise their children, as
companies are allowed to give gifts to mothers if they agree in writing. A
formula company requiring a mother to sign a document before giving her its
product is problematic.”
Dr. Gila Rosen of Rambam Medical Center’s
clinical nutrition department said that those who oppose the bill are not
opposed to nursing. Breast feeding would increase, she said, if the newborn were
brought to the mother immediately after delivery.
In the past decade,
Rosen said, there had not been any change in the rate of breast feeding because
formula had not caused harm.
“What causes women to stop breast feeding
[prematurely] is having to return too fast to work,” she said. “Those who want
to lengthen breast feeding should extend maternity leaves.”