Breaking news: Formula company capable of shame

Mead Johnson pulls “Breast milk formula” web page title

June 23, 2009– Mead Johnson hit new lows this past week, calling Lipil ‘The Breast Milk Formula” on its web site. The title to the web page was changed to ‘Enfamil “ ‘Lipil” following a concerted campaign by breastfeeding activists to contact the Federal Trade Commission.


Mead Johnson’s advertising is already under review by the FTC for overstating the health benefits from added fatty acids DHA/ARA. With the recent “breast milk formula” ploy, Mead Johnson sank to new lows, essentially claiming that infant formula is the same thing as human milk.

Breastfeeding listservs sent out alerts starting June 12, urging advocates to write to the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint about this deceptive advertising. The web site still listed “The Breastmilk Formula” on June 13, but within days, Enfamil had replaced the title.


Nevertheless, the rest of the web page continues to mislead families with spurious claims that their formula is equivalent to human milk. The page combines colorful graphics with claims that babies fed with DHA/ARA supplemented formula are smarter and have better vision than those fed other types of formula.

In fact, a study by the widely-respected Cochrane Review found that adding artificial long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA’s) such as DHA and ARA to infant formula had no beneficial effect for healthy infants. In their summary, they write:

This review found that feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth.

In fact, supplementation with LCPUFA’s may cause dangerous side-effects. A recent report by the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA) and the Cornucopia Institute found that some infants fed formula with DHA and ARA supplements developed diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. In an alert to parents, they write:

DHA and ARA in infant formula have been linked to severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and gastrointestinal pain in some infants. Since these additives are relatively new in infant formula, not all pediatricians are aware of their possible side effects.

It’s time to let the FTC know that continued misleading advertising of “breast milk formula” is unacceptable. Act now to file a complaint on the FTC web site. A sample letter of complaint follows below.

Sample Letter

I wish to register a complaint regarding text contained at the following Mead Johnson website:

Mead Johnson manufactures infant formula and markets it in a manner that is false and misleading to consumers. This deceptive text could lead consumers to believe that Enfamil formula is the same as breastmilk and cause them to purchase this product thinking that it will produce the same health outcomes breastfeeding. Enfamil formula contains fungal and algal sources of DHA and ARA. These sources of DHA and ARA are metabolized differently from the long chain fatty acids naturally present in breast milk. Mead Johnson has been cautioned by the FTC to refrain from overstating the health benefits from these fatty acids, yet the company has escalated its claims to the point that it represents its product as “the breast milk formula,†suggesting it is equivalent to human milk.

The National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA) and the Cornucopia Institute jointly filed a petition with the FTC on January 24, 2008 requesting the investigation into false and misleading claims by formula manufacturers regarding these fatty acids as possible violations of the law (15 USC 45). This particular ad is misleading, because a Cochrane review of randomized trials has shown that there is no evidence for a beneficial effect of LCPUFAs in infant formula. Such misleading information may lead consumers to make ill-informed decisions about infant feeding.

Of note, The US Department of Health and Human Services targets exclusive breastfeeding in the Health People 2010 goals. Public health groups on the state and federal level invest millions of dollars to support breastfeeding. Advertisements such as this one directly undermine those efforts by misleading parents into thinking that infant formula is equivalent to breastmilk.

The FTC is legally obligated to end misleading advertisements under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 USC 45. The FTC has described a misleading advertisement as a representation, omission, or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer. In the case of DHA/ARA as advertised on this website, there is a high likelihood that consumers will be mislead into believing that this formula offers benefits to their infant’s development and is equivalent to breastfeeding. This deception can cause harm to both mother and infant leading to premature formula supplementation or cessation of breastfeeding.

I urge the FTC to thoroughly investigate this matter pursuant to your authority, including but not limited to the issuance of a civil investigative demand. We must ensure that consumers have accurate information regarding the health consequences of artificial breast milk substitutes.

[Your name]

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