Marketing of breast milk substitutes, infant foods and commercially manufactured foods are regulated by International Code of Marketing adopted by World Health Assembly (WHA) of World Health Organisation (WHO) on 21 May 1981. A number of subsequent WHA resolutions have further clarified or extended certain provisions of the Code.
In Bangladesh to control the marketing of breast milk substitutes, a domestic law was adopted in 1984, being one of the first countries in the world with a domestic legislation for applying the code in the country. The law was amended in 1990 to make registration compulsory for selling the substitutes. Later on when infant and young child feeding was placed at the top of the global public health agenda, Bangladesh replaced the law in 2013 by The Breast-milk Substitutes, Infant Foods, Commercially Manufactured Complementary Foods and the Accessories Thereof ( Regulation of Marketing) Act, 2013. The law enhanced its scope and included two other items along with breast milk substitutes. One is infant foods, which are applicable for the babies' up-to 6 months, and second is, commercially manufactured alternative foods in which the targets are babies from 6 months to five years..
According to section 4 of the new Act of 2013 no person shall print, exhibit, circulate or publish any advertisement of any breast-milk substitutes, infant foods, commercially manufactured complementary foods and any accessories thereof. Therefore, advertisements of these products telecast in different television channels and advertisements published in different newspapers in Bangladesh completely violate of the law.
Several attractive advertisements of different infant foods and commercially manufactured alternative foods are frequently seen in the television amongst which some of the foods are very popular to us. Baby foods' advertisements are so unregulated that some advertisements show that doctors prescribe these commercially manufactured foods for increasing height and brain development. The law however does not include the foods applicable for children above five years. But the popular advertisements are not clear or specific about age of consuming. In addition, any leaflet, handbill or similar instrument wherein there is an advertisement of food supplement is prohibited from circulation. Section 7 of the Act mentions that, people should be made aware of advantages of breast feeding and importance of homemade nutritious foods.
Section 4 of the Act prohibits offering or giving any financial or other benefits to any person or any officer or staff of any health care centre or any health worker for receiving any higher education or engaging in any research by the funding of the manufacturer. Moreover, offering or proposing offers to any person such as to promote or allure the sale of these products are forbidden by the law. To organise any competition or function for or to render any other assistance to children for promoting these products is not permitted.
The law prohibits indirect advertising too, that means exposure during the publicity of any commodity, particularly child commodity such as: diaper, clothes, toy, etc. In addition, the law prohibits donating or distributing these items to any organisations or rescue shelters that are engaged in saving or reducing risk of children below five years of age or pregnant woman or newly delivered woman who are affected or endangered by natural calamity in the time of disaster.
If anyone contravenes any provision of this Act, such contravention shall constitute an offence, and for that, he shall be punished with imprisonment which may extent to maximum 3 (three) years or with fine which may extent to maximum 5,00,000 (five lacs) or with both. Whoever commits an offence for second time shall consecutively be liable to be sentenced with double term of punishment. The Act stated that no person shall print, exhibit, circulate or publish advertisement of the mentioned products and at the same time no person shall engage himself in any such work. Hence, the print and electronic media along with the producer, importer, distributer and seller may be liable for committing the offence. Therefore, in order to implement the law in true sense, mass awareness is required.
The writer is an Associate Professor of Law, Rajshahi University.