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Milk of human unkindness

Anna Bluston on a day of protesting to protect us from harmful substances.

On Saturday 15th May I attended two separate protests: one organised by Baby Milk Action outside the headquarters of Nestlé UK in Croydon, Surrey, and the second, organised by Campaign Against Climate Change, about Bush’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Treaty to cut Carbon Dioxide emissions.

The Nestle action is a fairly small but vocal protest to highlight Nestlé’s continual violations of the World Health Organisation's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, by aggressively promoting artificial infant feeding. Baby Milk Action is a non-profit organisation which aims to save lives and to end the avoidable suffering caused by inappropriate infant feeding. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million infants every year.

Nestlé, the world’s largest baby food company, has been the subject of a boycott in 20 countries for over two decades now. It is responsible for more violations than any other company. Breastfeeding helps save lives and is best for babies, even from malnourished mothers. In exceptional circumstances where breastfeeding is not possible, mothers should be advised on suitable alternatives by health workers, not a greedy profit-making company who will always put its own interests first. In many countries around the world, Nestlé promotes its baby food products to increase its profits: there have even been cases of Nestlé employees dressing up as health workers! Although this practice has been discontinued, in the Philippines Nestlé reps still go round with community health workers.

At the protest the Chairman of Nestlé, Alastair Sykes, who insists that “Nestlé does nothing wrong” was invited to come and receive a petition of 10,000 signatures demanding that Nestlé discontinues its practice. Several members of IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) from other countries were there, including Argentina and Brazil. Nestlé claimed that it markets infant formula ‘ethically and responsibly’. However, we were shown Nestlé leaflets and merchandise from several countries, including leaflets from Thailand promoting Nestlé Infant Formula, a clear violation of the marketing code, free CDs, and a shirt for babies from Armenia saying ‘I love my Mum.’ This is clearly promotion.

We held banners, banged drums, gave leaflets to passers-by and sang breast-feeding songs! There were even young children holding dolls to represent the 4000 babies who die every day from unsafe bottle feeding (see picture). The boycott definitely helps because Nestlé has changed some of its practices, and its PR machine works hard to counter the claims of activists: it produces numerous booklets and leaflets attempting to deflect the calls for change. As the Chairman would not come out, a small group of us went in to the building and handed the petition to Nestlé’s Communication Director, David Hudson. When asked if he had a statement, he replied, “No I don’t.” Says it all really.

For more information and to support the boycott go to http://www.babymilkaction.org

The second protest set off from the Imperial War Museum Park in Lambeth, at 3:30pm, to the American Embassy at Grovesnor Square. There were about 500 people, including Caroline Lucas Green MEP, who gave a rousing speech in the park before the final stage of the march set off, after the dedicated ‘hardcore’ protesters, who had been on the ‘long march’ from ExxonMobil headquarters in Leatherhead, joined us in the park. There were loud cheers when they arrived. The theme of the march was "Bush taking us the way the Dinosaurs went" and there were many colourful costumes as befits this theme.

We set off with plenty of balloons, banners, and numerous ‘Stop Esso’ stickers, as Esso, the world’s biggest profit making company, consistently backs the Bush government to block any attempts to reverse climate change, and is the only oil company to make no investment in renewable energy.

Bicycle-powered generators provided Michael Meacher MP (Environment Minister, 1997-2003) and Norman Baker, MP (Lib Dem shadow Environment spokesperson), and Liana Stupples (Friends of the Earth) with the electricity for the microphones and loudspeakers. Peddling was by a team of dedicated people with tired legs!

The only negative aspect of this march was that the wonderful samba band usually accompanying the march was missing, replaced by a man with a loudspeaker singing loudly for much of the way about cannabis and its excellent properties.

For more information on Campaign Against Climate Change see freethesheeple.net/cacc/html/