Dying to eat: the conatus of capital vs the conatus of life


Babies fed infant formula are twice as likely as breastfed babies to die in the first six weeks of life. Even in rich countries like the UK.

They are 20% more likely to suffer with inner ear infections and eczema, five times more likely to develop urinary tract infections and suffer with gastroenteritis, and five to eight times more likely to develop lymphomas before the age of 15. They are also more likely to develop multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hyperactivity, dental malocclusion, coronary heart disease, autoimmune thyroid disease, coeliac disease and childhood inflammatory bowel disease. In areas of the global south where there is often poor sanitation and no access to clean drinking water, the dangers are compounded by the risk of  deadly waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, when women unable to read written instructions prepare infant formula using contaminated water.

In 1981 the international community accepted the evidence on the dangers of artificial feeding when 118 member countries of the World Health Assembly (WHA)  (the decision making arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO)) voted to adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Only one member country, the United States, voted against the Code introducing restrictions around the marketing of these deadly products (the US eventually signed up in 2004).

Today the the infant formula business is valued at a whopping $58 billion and it continues to grow year on year. But how is this possible in light of the Code? Well maybe it has something to do with the fact that the failure to place any obligation on signatories to the Code has rendered it largely ineffectual as an instrument for ensuring child health, and sadly, this is an industry that breaches international agreements and laws with impunity. In fact this is an industry which has gone so far as to label the Code immoral: ”Ethical decisions that injure a firm’s ability to compete are actually immoral’ (Helmut Maucher: Honorary Chairman of Nestlé).  It is an industry which clearly has no interest in sustaining the lives of babies when it has shareholder dividends to think about!

Indeed, it would seem the megalomaniac tendencies of companies like Nestlè and Danone (the worlds largest producers of infant formula) knows no bounds, as with no compunction at all they engage in aggressive marketing campaigns in some of the poorest countries in the world; practices which have resulted in a significant decline in breastfeeding practices with all too often fatal consequences for millions of innocent children.

They have no respect for the laws of sovereign countries either. When India introduced the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes into law, Nestlè carried on with business as usual, and instead of accepting the criminal charges against them, issued writ petitions against the Indian government. Today India is the fastest growing market for infant formula products in the world.

In the Philippines Danone has been accused of bribing doctors, and of flouting regulations which require that infant formula products have bold labels clearly stating the protective effects of breastfeeding. Their response? To bring to bear the full weight of their financial power  to curry favour with politicians at the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, urging the Philippine Congress to pass a draft bill aimed at relaxing these rules.

This is the conatus of capital. Where the  invisible hand of the market wages war on humanity  – on the conatus of life itself.

According to UNICEF, the practice of breastfeeding babies for at least six months after birth could save the lives of 1.5 million children worldwide. Breast milk is free at the  point of need. It is also the ultimate in sustainability and convenience foods – requiring no transportation, no packaging, no special or costly equipment – it produces no waste and is entirely natural and renewable.

One of the most vulnerable groups on the entire planet – human babies are entirely dependent on primary caregivers for their very survival. Without the power of language or benefit of years of education behind them, they are oblivious to the fact that they are being poisoned. They are unable to demand food sovereignty – unable to demand their sovereign right to food that won’t kill them. We – the grown ups – must do it for them.

To find out more, including how to boycott these companies and how TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) will fortify the hegemonic power of these companies go www.babymilkaction.org


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3 Responses to “Dying to eat: the conatus of capital vs the conatus of life”

  1. victoriaevbuomwan Says:

    Conatus us of life have finally raised his invisible hand on the conatus on the the free market operations. Dangerous war indeed

  2. jonida04 Says:

    These companies have only one objective: profit at all costs, no matter what they do and whom they have to override. They exists because there is a gap in the market for this food, there are people who think they are doing the right thing by feeding their children with infant formula instead of breastfeeding. I think that they play with he minds of the most vulnerable peoples or the ones not having enough information about the product. However, the governments and organizations that are responsible for food security should be blamed. A company takes care of its own benefits, but the governments, WHO and other organizations should be along the people, the communities not able to defend themselves. But as you say in your article, this is conatus of capital, which overrides any humanity.

  3. franzi075 Says:

    These companies themselves sell the idea that infant formula milk is better than breast-milk – see this Nestle advert saying ‘Breast-milk is best for babies up to two years old”. (http://archive.babymilkaction.org/pics/photographs/philippines06/nestogenphilippinesif06.jpg)

    Save the Children’s report ‘Superfood for babies’ (http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/docs/Superfood_for_Babies_UK_version.pdf), launched shortly before UNICEF’s report in 2013, also highlights the fact that the global health-worker crisis impacts heavily on this problem as well as the fact that there is a lack of legislation that enables mothers to breastfeed their children. According to the report, there is evidence to suggest that breast-milk substitute (BMS) companies are coming together as non-governmental organisations, or NGOs (a term normally reserved for not-for-profit bodies) in order to lobby and influence legislation about marketing tactics for breast milk substitutes.

    In fact, a new bill that includes changes to the Philippines’ “Milk-Code” (seen as gold standard legislation in this field) could allow donations of breast-milk substitutes in emergencies and samples of breast-milk substitutes to be distributed in healthcare facilities, and give sales and marketing staff of BMS companies access to health workers. Notably, this bill is backed by the Infant and Paediatric Nutrition Association of the Philippines (IPNAP)…yep…a lobby body consisting of Nestlé, Mead Johnson, Abbott, Fonterra, and Wyeth.

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