Dear formula industry: an ultimatum


If I were given the opportunity to speak to formula industry representatives, this is what I would say…

It seems to me that your choices are clear, if not particularly palatable:

  • You could continue operating under your own special brand of denial, dragging your corporate feet for, at most, the next 15 to 20 years while doing your best to slow the slide in sales of your myriad infant-formula products, which are intended for routine nonemergency use, by seeking to subvert the switch to more and longer breastfeeding (indeed, given the principles traditionally governing profit-making, this is what you’d be expected to do); or you could defy tradition by preparing for changed consumer behavior resulting from increasing society-wide awareness of breastfeeding’s essential nurturing and nutritional role. Or…
  • You could demonstrate yet again that you’re really not interested in what breastfeeding proponents have to say, only in working as close as possible to the margins of enforced regulations; that you have no intention of accepting the prospect of less profit without a fight; and that, instead, you will continue pushing for as much profit as possible today and adapt only at the last moment to changes in market conditions tomorrow; or you could reconsider your position in the cold light of that fabled sine qua non of commercial acumen – a hard-nosed assessment based on enlightened self-interest. Or…
  • You could willfully stay behind the curve, continuing merrily doing whatever you manage to get away with in terms of what today’s market will bear, only having to scramble, in tomorrow’s, to cope with the inevitable shift in consumer demand resulting from a breastfeeding counterrevolution (due primarily to increased prevalence and duration of breastfeeding, but also including multiplication of non-profit human-milk banks in high-, middle- and low-income countries) to meet mushrooming special-needs demand, for example to feed preterm and low-birth-weight babies and those abandoned or orphaned due to HIV/AIDS); or you could opt to move ahead of the curve by preparing for tomorrow when at least a few of your products will still be needed, albeit in significantly reduced quantity and frequency.

As there really is no place for routine non-emergency artificial feeding, any attempt to compete with Mother Nature by seeking to diminish her market share in favor of a synthetic substitute is intrinsically unethical.

Breastfeeding and breast milk are ideas whose time has returned. As an industry, you habitually pride yourselves as being at the vanguard in terms of anticipating and responding rapidly to consumer needs. Here’s your chance to prove it by jumping in today on the right side of history. How cool is that?

But I’m not exactly holding my breath. As I said earlier, given the principles traditionally governing profit-making, putting the interests of mothers and children first is not at all what you’d be expected to do spontaneously. Please note: Whatever you decide, you will henceforth no longer be able to say that you were never warned about the consequences if you don’t.

This century belongs to breastfeeding!

James Akre prepared this post for The Alpha Parent. It is adapted from his book “The problem with breastfeeding. A personal reflection” (Hale Publishing, 2006). As founder, chairman and CEO of the International Breastfeeding Support Collective, James focuses on the sociocultural dimension of the universal biological norm for feeding infants and young children, and on pathways for returning breastfeeding to the realm of the ho-hum ordinary everywhere. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Breastfeeding Journal and of the Scientific Advisory Committee of La Leche League France, and past member of the board of directors of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE).