Nestlé is one of the four most-boycotted companies in the world, having been subjected to the longest-running worldwide boycott in history, now nearing 50 years. Let's see why. The production and sale of baby milk powder is one of the largest, probably the most profitable, and unquestionably the most criminal, industries in the world today, generating billions in revenue and profits while indirectly causing millions of infant deaths. Nestlé controls 50% or more of that worldwide market. Here is part of the story:
It is not a secret that mothers' breast milk is universally acknowledged as far superior to artificial powdered milk for babies, being naturally sterile and uncontaminated, and containing all the necessary nutrition while, and very importantly, supplying the baby with multiple antibodies that provide immunity against many childhood illnesses and diseases. It is true that almost all mothers are physically able to breastfeed their babies, and a fact that babies that are breastfed become ill much less often than do babies fed with artificial milk powder. Bottle-feeding with artificial milk has been long proven to present increasing dangers where mothers have poor or no access to necessary sterile facilities. UNICEF and many other health groups have stated that about 1.5 million babies die each year from simple ailments like diarrhea, ailments common in babies drinking artificial powdered milk, but that almost never occur with breast-fed babies. The WHO condemned baby milk companies for discouraging breastfeeding, thereby contributing to infant malnutrition and greatly increasing the vulnerability of babies to infections. One UNICEF report stated flatly that "A bottle-fed child is 25 times more likely to die from diarrhea than a breast-fed child where water is unsafe." The WHO and a number of other international organisations claim that "Over 4,000 babies die every day in poor countries because they're not breastfed. That's not conjecture, it's fact." It is also a fact that in most poor nations, infant mortality is at least three times higher with bottle-fed babies than with those who were breast-fed.
The entire thrust of the baby milk industry is to replace wholesome breast milk with an artificial product that is imperfect, insufficient, often dangerous, sometimes lethal, but always highly-profitable. Their methods are some of the most reprehensible in all of corporate marketing, taking advantage of young mothers in the most despicable ways and causing many more than one million needless infant deaths each year. Their marketing approach constitutes a direct and deliberate attack on one of the most basic of human functions - breastfeeding - while ignoring the enormous human cost in infant fatalities and illnesses for which they are in most cases directly (or at least indirectly) responsible. The executives and staff of baby milk companies like Nestlé are even more morally deformed than are those of Big Pharma (who are often owned and controlled by the same people), and have proven they will do whatever is necessary, use any tactics that produce sales, totally heedless to either law, ethics or morality. They will use any measures to change the cultural habits and natural values of a nation, to sell increasing volumes of their highly-profitable artificial milk.
These people learned early on that emotional issues like fear and anxiety can actually stop lactation, can prevent a mother from producing breast milk, so they designed clever psychological marketing programs to make women fearful of their ability to produce sufficient breast milk, thereby potentially endangering their baby's health or even its life. "This is what physicians and psychiatrists call the "letdown reflex" which controls the flow of milk to the mother’s nipples, noting that this is a nervous mechanism and very easily upset by emotional influences, by fear, pain, uncertainty or embarrassment" - all of which influences are used by the baby milk companies. They designed programs to cleverly mislead young mothers into believing that breastfeeding was complicated, inconvenient, and very likely to fail anyway. They made women ashamed to breastfeed their babies, by promoting breastfeeding as a disgusting practice done only by the lowest-class peasants and that 'a modern woman' - especially a white modern woman - would never breastfeed her child. They led women to believe that breastfeeding would make their bodies suffer, would cause their breasts to sag and they would no longer be attractive. Their programs were designed to damage young mothers at both psychological and physiological levels, to upset them, to engender fear and cause worry, all to discourage mothers from breastfeeding.
They utilised the services of thousands of physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists, to say nothing of marketing personnel, to learn how to penetrate the psyche of a new mother to discourage her from breastfeeding her own child. The baby milk industry is unique in that successful marketing depends on the necessity of creating a need for a product where no need exists, and the creation of this need can be accomplished only by a vicious and inhuman process of undermining the normal and natural physiological process of breastfeeding, and to do so by attacking young mothers where they are psychologically most vulnerable - fear for the health of their babies. It is only by that manipulation, by creating and playing on those fears, that they are able to sell any product at all since, in real life, the need for artificial baby milk is surprisingly small. Of course Nestlé aren't the only baby milk company utilising these tactics. Danone, Wyeth, Mead Johnson and Abbott are not better. Nestlé is the prime focus because they began this dirty business, have been at it the longest, have unquestionably been directly or indirectly responsible for the most baby deaths, and have by all reports violated all the rules more than any other company.
Lest you think I exaggerate about the psychological trauma inflicted on a young mother by baby milk advertising, I will give you two examples. For the first, baby milk executives discovered that women in poor countries hugely admired Western women with white skin and yellow hair. That realisation was not long in reaching the marketing departments. I can recall seeing in several poor countries billboards for baby milk that contained photos of 'yellow-haired goddesses', and, while I can no longer remember the specifics, the essential sentiment being communicated by those billboards was: "Beautiful white women don't breastfeed their babies. It's only you backward, uneducated and ignorant brown peasants who do that." The second was from a radio advertisement by US-based Borden milk in the 1950s that played this little song:
The child is going to die
Because the mother’s breast has given out
Mama o Mama the child cries
If you want your child to get well
Give it KLIM milk
Edward Baer wrote an article titled, "Babies means business", in which he wrote that "baby milk powder is a unique product in that once a baby begins drinking infant formula, it is almost impossible to stop". The reason is that newborn babies have no taste, in the sense of taste preference, and will drink whatever they are given. But they immediately develop a powerful preference for that first taste and, if a baby's first taste is of artificial baby milk, that baby will often refuse the mother's breast milk later, sometimes even preferring to go hungry, and thus eliminating the possibility of breastfeeding. That means that giving a newborn baby a commercial milk powder is a one-way street, and is the reason companies like Nestlé are in the hospitals to ensure babies taste their milk first. It is also true that once introduced to a particular brand of baby milk, a baby will almost always refuse all other brands, again sometimes preferring to go hungry. This is why the commercial baby milk companies employ so many dirty tricks in attempts to exclude each other from a market, often by adding vanillin or some other unusual taste to their milk to ensure the mother cannot later change brands.
Then, through corruption, bribery and extortion on a vast international scale, Nestlé and other companies enlisted the help of the staff in hospitals around the world. Following the pattern of professional drug dealers, they would provide free samples of their product and pay the nurses and doctors to push this artificial baby milk onto the mothers as soon as the babies were born, often keeping the newborns away from the mothers so breastfeeding was nearly an impossibility, and to present nurses with an opportunity to give every baby their brand of artificial milk as its first taste. The baby would then refuse to accept its own mother's milk, the psychological pressure from worry and upset making breastfeeding especially difficult, with the breast milk supply quickly drying up, leaving a mother no choice but to continue to use the artificial product. But they don't stop there. When a mother is discharged from a hospital, she will be given one or two free cases of expensive baby milk powder to ensure she doesn't commit treason against the baby milk company by attempting a reversion to breastfeeding her child at home. To prevent this, fake 'nurses' will attend at her home with further free samples and "advice" on baby-feeding, eliminating any possibility of reversion.
One media article noted that Nestlé actively works the hospitals, encouraging bottle feeding primarily by either giving away free samples of baby milk to hospitals, or avoiding criminal charges by utilising the clever tactic of 'selling' the baby milk to the hospitals but then neglecting to collect payment. Nestlé and other baby milk companies claim they promote breastfeeding as the best solution for every mother, but these claims are despicably disingenuous. It is true that the first words to a young mother by a company salesman might be such a statement, but the entire rest of the pressured sales pitch is directed to the opposite result. If you don't believe me, speak to some of the mothers. They aren't difficult to find. From one report, "The nurse began by saying, in general terms, that breast feeding was best. She then went on to detail the supplementary foods that the breast-fed baby would need. Vitamin drops to be started at 3 or 4 weeks; cereals at 6-8 weeks; fruit juices, properly prepared, soon after. The nurse was implying that it was possible to start with a proprietary baby milk from birth which would avoid these unnecessary problems." To quote Baer further:
"Formula samples used to be delivered to new mothers by 'milk nurses', women hired by milk companies and dressed in semi-official uniforms to promote artificial feeding to mothers and health professionals. Banned from entering maternity wards directly in Singapore for example, Dumex milk nurses would wait just outside the hospital gates to catch new mothers with free samples on their way home. In Jamaica, Bristol-Myers milk nurses evaded government bans to enter public maternity hospitals and copy down names and addresses of new mothers to visit at home and leave free samples. In the Philippines, milk nurses worked the public housing projects of the poor, calling at dwellings where diapers on the clothesline signaled a newborn at home.
Now the baby formula firms have convinced many hospitals to act as their sales agents in handing out samples to new mothers. The effect is even more powerful. The hospital is essentially saying to each mother, 'Here, use this formula. It’s good stuff'. Naturally baby formula companies compete viciously with each other for the hospital business as the stakes are so high. An Abbot sales training manual states, "When one considers that for every 100 infants discharged on a particular formula brand, approximately 93 infants remain on that brand, the importance of hospital selling becomes obvious." In exchange for giving 'discharge packs' of formula to new mothers, hospitals get free formula for in-house use together with equipment, literature, and a package of other services. The most insidious of these is a free architectural service to hospitals which are building or renovating facilities for newborn care. Abbot helps design at least 200 maternity departments a year in the US alone. The layout of these centers, whether by accident or design, makes breast-feeding difficult. Mothers are physically separated from their newborns. Nurses can swiftly and conveniently administer donated formula in ready-to-mix bottles. But establishing breastfeeding is more troublesome because, instead of rooming-in mothers and babies together, babies must be carried long distances to their mothers for feeding, a task that nurses resent. Convincing doctors of the virtues of artificial milk ... is the key to establishing bottle-feeding. Baby milk companies spend untold millions of dollars subsidizing office furnishings, research projects, gifts, conferences, publications and travel junkets of the medical profession. An Abbott trade publication states, "... we are striving to make the physician a low-pressure salesman for Abbott". The tactics work. Physicians continue to allow free infant formula samples to be distributed despite the evidence that this discourages breastfeeding."
UN organisations have documented the success of these baby milk marketers in lesser-developed countries, stating that during only ten years of active marketing breastfeeding declined in Singapore from 80% to 5%, in Chile from 90% to 5%, and in Mexico from 100% to 40%. China was also hit very hard, by the same reprehensible hospital marketing, with breastfeeding declining from nearly 95% to only 28%, after which the government initiated strict laws on baby milk marketing and advertising, banned hospital selling, and launched an active campaign to push the percentage back above 50%. These measures will help for the future, but one entire generation of babies and mothers will have paid a heavy price for this free-market capitalism.
After the dramatic fall in breastfeeding in China, the government banned all hospital marketing of baby milk, but in 2013 China's CCTV ran a 20-minute broadcast documenting that France's Danone, and perhaps other baby milk companies had been back in the hospitals, paying nurses throughout China to feed newborn babies artificial powdered milk before their mothers had a chance to begin breastfeeding, thereby virtually ensuring the babies would later refuse the mothers' milk. Former Dumex employees produced substantial accounting records that documented Dumex's payments of cash rewards directly into the personal bank accounts of hospital staff. Danone executives claimed to be "extremely shocked" at the news, and of course proposed to launch an "internal investigation" during which they would pretend to learn what they already knew. Such a program of bribery and extortion would require continued cooperation of the entire finance, accounting, HR and marketing departments of a company, and could not possibly occur without the full knowledge of corporate executives. According to one media report, "an insider told CCTV that it wasn’t unusual for formula producers to conspire with hospitals to ensure that babies became "addicted" to certain brands." A Wall Street Journal report by Laurie Burkitt said, "A woman who said she was a former sales manager with Dumex China told CCTV: "Every year we send money to hospitals, about tens of thousands of yuan. It’s kind of tacit agreement. If you didn’t offer a proper sum of money, hospitals would change to another brand the next month." She showed CCTV a detailed payment account that appeared to indicate that Dumex spent an average of 300,000 yuan (US$49,020) on some hospitals in Tianjin every month ... The document appeared to detail payments ranging from hundreds of yuan to 10,000 yuan to doctors and nurses. The former sales manager said one doctor received a payment every month and added that the company always said the payments were for other reasons, such as support for hospital expansion."
•The Unknown Holocaust
Nestlé have been responsible for baby deaths longer than you might imagine. By 1875, nearly 150 years ago, Henri Nestlé was exporting his 'milk food' to poor countries, and by 1935 Nestlé were marketing a defective condensed milk for sale to newborn babies, the company's advertising claiming it was an "ideal food for delicate infants", even though Nestlé's milk had been banned in Britain for causing rickets and blindness in babies. In fact, Henri Nestlé spent his entire life convincing millions of mothers in poor countries that breast-feeding was not as good for their baby as bottle-feeding, attempting to create "a magic belief in the white man's milk powder." One of the world's most famous physicians, UK-educated Dr. Cicely Williams, spent her life campaigning against artificial infant-feeding. Located in Singapore in the late 1930s, Dr. Williams observed Nestlé representatives "sending girls in white coats around the tenements of Singapore, selling tinned milk as though they were promoting infant health", according to an article in the UK Independent newspaper. Dr. Williams was so incensed at this, she delivered what the Independent called "a stinging speech" to the Singapore business community that was titled, "Milk and Murder". She said then that "misguided propaganda on infant feeding should be punished as the most miserable form of sedition; these deaths should be regarded as murder". The people who own and manage Nestlé didn't care then, and they don't care now.
With an unlimited market and potentially astronomical profits, baby milk companies, with Nestlé leading, focused on undeveloped countries even though it was clearly understood those mothers had virtually no access to clean water for mixing the formula and few or no facilities to boil water to kill the bacteria and sterilise the bottles. The average person in a richer country refuses to understand that boiled water is a luxury to the majority of women in the Third World. Moreover, the milk was so expensive, costing in many cases 35% or more of the family's monthly income that uninformed and uneducated mothers would try to economise by using less milk powder than required, thereby ensuring their babies would not only be exposed to every manner of germs and infections, but would be undernourished as well. By the 1950s, physicians working in developing countries were already reporting that diarrhea, infections and malnutrition were increasing in babies who were fed baby milk powder, but that the illnesses remained rare amongst breastfed babies. Of course, deaths were increasing as well, at first by the tens of thousands per year then the hundreds of thousands, then millions, and still continuing today without abatement. All of this was well-known by Nestlé and the other baby milk companies, and also by the local governments who did their best to mitigate the tragedies by laying down strict regulations as to necessary information to be provided to new mothers, but the process failed miserably for many reasons including widespread illiteracy and fraudulent marketing. It should be noted that infant mortality is calculated in different ways, sometimes by deaths occurring during the first six months or the first year of life, and in other cases deaths occurring during the first five years. It is a certainty that the death rates of bottle-fed babies in poor countries are understated since, while many babies may survive that first six months and avoid participation in the statistics, many others will die before five years due to their absent or defective immunity to many childhood diseases, an immunity that would have been guaranteed had they been breast-fed.
Nestlé's business practices first became public only in the 1970s, when in 1974 a charity named War on Want published a book about Nestlé titled "The Baby Killer". The book was also released in Nestlé's home country of Switzerland with the title "Nestlé Kills Babies", upon which Nestlé launched a huge lawsuit against the charity. The company won the lawsuit but it was an empty victory since the judge fined the charity only $400 and informed Nestlé they would see many more lawsuits if the company's behavior didn't change. It was primarily due to the lawsuit that the full details of Nestlé's conduct reached the media, causing a flood of international outrage which led immediately to calls for a worldwide boycott on all Nestlé products everywhere. These boycotts have never ceased, and there are many places today where you cannot purchase any Nestlé product.
I'm uncertain how to put a total number on this, but if we assume that infant deaths in the undeveloped world resulting from the marketing of baby milk have, since 1950, averaged half of today's total of 1.5 million per year, that would give us almost 50 million dead babies. You can do your own calculations, but that number is greater than the total deaths in both World Wars. The marketing of baby milk is one of the greatest and longest-running holocausts in human history, yet few people in any country are aware of this massive and continuing human tragedy because the owners of the Western media protect their close friends who own the baby milk companies. The Jewish-owned Western media are fond of using Hitler as a poster boy for human atrocities, but Nestlé is a Jewish-owned company with most of its directors, executives and officers being Jewish, and they have more blood on their hands than Hitler ever did. Some people in the world need to think about that.
There is another aspect to this. Nestlé executives, and no doubt those of the other baby milk companies, claim they sell their product primarily to those women in affordable circumstances and who have access to clean water and the necessary facilities to prepare and use the milk safely. And that is perhaps the biggest lie of all. In a recorded interview, an executive of Abbott was asked this question: "Tell me, if you stop selling to people who are too poor to use the product safely, will you still make a profit?" His reply was to say, "That is the crux of the problem." Try to understand what that means. The man is admitting that if baby milk were sold only to those women who could afford it and who had the facilities to use it safely, they would have so few customers they would make no profit and there would be no baby milk companies. This baby milk executive is factually admitting that the tens of billions of annual profit arise only from marketing the milk to the hundreds of millions of mothers in poor countries who can neither afford the milk nor possess the facilities to use it without endangering the lives of their babies. Since he is fully aware that statistically 1.5 million of those babies will die each year because they were drinking artificial baby milk instead of being breastfed, that is as close as we can come to deliberately killing babies without actually raising a hand to kill an infant. There is no way to avoid the conclusion that inherent in the decision to market baby milk in poor countries lies another decision to knowingly cause the deaths of many more than one million babies each year. The brutal truth is that those 1.5 million bottle-fed babies who die each year would be alive and healthy if they had been breastfed. This is not the same as automakers selling cars with the knowledge that statistically some motorists will die in accidents. Automobiles are a recognised necessity for modern life, and automakers are not frightening mothers into purchasing cars under threats that their babies will die from lack of transportation. By contrast, virtually the entire market for baby milk is artificially created and would not exist on its own because the need for the product is extremely small.
The directors and executives of baby milk companies concocted a plan many decades ago to steal from the poorest of the poor, to market by inhumane methods a totally unnecessary product to mothers who would have to spend 35% of their family income on a product that in many cases would directly lead to the deaths of their own infants. The baby milk company executives know that the vast majority of their customers are unable to use the milk safely, that they have no access to clean water and that for most of them sterilisation is virtually impossible. They know that when the babies do fall ill from infections and diarrhea, health care will be sparse, usually of low quality, and often either unavailable or out of reach due to distance. If you give yourself time to recover from the shock, then eliminate all the PR and marketing propaganda from your mind and consider only the bare facts, the conclusion is inescapable that the entire executive and management staff of every Western baby milk company should be placed on trial and executed for crimes against humanity. I know of no other industry against which we could reasonably levy such a claim, with the possible exception of the big pharmaceutical firms - who are in large part beneficially owned and controlled by the same small group of individuals who own the baby milk companies.
But the true flavor of the people who own and manage Nestlé and the other baby milk companies is subtly different than my description might have suggested. Nestlé executives are not running around Africa or South America or China killing babies, and it isn't actually their intent to kill babies. They just want money. If the babies survive the process, that's okay. But if the babies die, then they die. The financial result is the same either way. It isn't that Nestlé executives want babies to die. It's just that they don't care. If you want to see the results of the clever marketing methods utilised by today's Nestlé and other Western baby milk companies, go to any developing nation and first visit the hospitals. Then visit the graveyards.
•Uncontaminated High Quality
All the baby milk companies, and certainly including Nestlé, carefully craft an image of humanity, concern, health safety and purity of product, but the meaningless words of marketing propaganda haven't managed to hide the milk scandals in which all firms have shared. In fact, about the same time as the melamine milk disaster in China ten years ago, the Hong Kong authorities found the same melamine in Nestlé milk. A short while later the Taiwan Health Ministry also announced that six different types of Nestlé milk powders contained melamine, and were removed from the shelves. Near the same time, large batches of the company's baby milk were removed from sale in South Africa after tests showed they contained unacceptably high levels of melamine. In South Africa, company executives insisted they employed "stringent quality controls", but the melamine was there at several times the acceptable levels, with many mothers claiming they noticed something very different in the texture of the milk, stating it would "foam up" in the bottle, and that their babies became "violently ill" after drinking it. Nestlé recalled the products as ordered, but company executives persisted in the 'black is white' defense by simply denying the existence of any problems, insisting there is "nothing wrong with our milk", despite the melamine detected in all the samples, repeatedly telling the media the products were 100% safe, and encouraging mothers to believe them on the strength of the claim that "We are a very responsible company". There was another occasion in China where tests on Nestlé baby milk discovered "alarming" levels of toxic contaminants that included heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and cadmium. The products were immediately returned by consumers and pulled from store shelves, but Nestlé China insisted its products were "absolutely safe" and refused to provide refunds to customers or to compensate retailers for their losses if they did provide refunds.
I personally place no trust whatever in any of the secondary re-testing that magically discovers a product was uncontaminated after all, and that the lab performing the original tests "made a mistake". Almost inevitably, these restatements result from political or financial pressure, or from special uncontaminated samples obtained from the company and submitted to a friendly but "independent" lab that almost never tests samples drawn from the original contaminated batches. In one recent case in China, officials in Hunan discovered high amounts of vanillin in the baby milk of Wyeth (part of Nestlé), Abbott and Mead Johnson. The baby milk was purchased randomly by the lab technicians from supermarkets and tested positive for vanillin in amounts as high as 350 milligrams per kilogram. But after the companies complained bitterly to officials, the Guangzhou Bureau of Quality became involved (no idea why) and suddenly the vanillin disappeared from the test results, in spite of the fact that the Hunan lab had certification at the highest legal levels and whose findings automatically qualified as indisputable evidence in the courts. The explanation was that a "miscarriage" had occurred due to "staff negligence" where highly-experienced lab technicians somehow "misjudged the chromatographic analysis". Yeah, well, maybe. But the test for vanillin is extremely simple to perform with the most basic of technology, and is something a high school student could do, using only his nose. The chance of a highly-certificated lab finding vanillin levels as high as 350 milligrams when no vanillin actually exists, is precisely zero. Draw your own conclusions.
There was a similar event in India where the Indian government sued Nestlé for $100 million in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of consumers when Nestlé's Maggi Noodles were found to contain dangerously high levels of lead. The government's food safety officials declared the food "unsafe and hazardous for human consumption", with shopkeepers immediately removing all Maggi products from their shelves and Nestlé being forced to recall more than 400 million packages of noodles. The government officials also accused Nestlé of engaging in unfair trade practices and of misleading consumers about the safety of the company's food products. But then suddenly an Indian court declared that "principles of natural justice weren’t followed" because Nestlé weren't given prior warning of the tests nor advance notice of the results, and therefore had neither time nor opportunity to have their friends in government shut down the test lab or destroy the evidence. The court therefore, following those principles of natural justice, ordered food-safety regulators to obtain new noodle samples from Nestlé and retest, and guess what? Magically, no lead anywhere. Nestlé's lawyers claimed the standard of testing by the highest official government labs in the country were "not reliable" and that banning the product was "completely arbitrary". For added confidence, Nestlé executives claimed their own tests found no problems, and the company additionally sent test samples to labs in the US, the UK, Canada and Singapore, with all testing negative for lead. No information was offered as to the source of those new test samples, but the ability to produce uncontaminated samples on demand would seem to have saved Nestlé $100 million while also avoiding the destruction of 400 million packages of noodles. Once again, draw your own conclusions.
It gets worse. A few years ago, the Italian police raided Nestlé warehouses throughout the country, seizing and destroying about 30 million liters of Nestlé baby milk that was found to be contaminated with chemicals normally used in the embalming processes in funeral homes, apparently from a severely toxic ink penetrating the milk packaging. The investigation began early that month with 2 million liters of contaminated Nestlé baby milk being recalled and destroyed, but then the Italian police suddenly launched massive raids not only on supermarkets and Nestlé warehouses, but were actually tracing and apprehending trucks on the nation's highways that were transporting Nestlé products. The Italian media stated this latter fact without commentary, but let's think about this. If I'm a policeman and I know that a truck is somewhere on the highway between Roma and Firenze, the easy thing would be to wait in Firenze and meet the truck when it arrived. I mean, this is just a truck carrying packages of baby milk that are unlikely to explode, so what would motivate me to flood the highway with police cars to find that baby milk quickly? Exactly. Baby milk that doesn't want to be found. I'm reading between the lines, but Nestlé executives certainly knew the milk was contaminated and unsafe, and it's also clear they fully meant to sell it anyway. My guess is that when Nestlé executives learned of the raids, they knew all that product would be seized and destroyed and so issued orders to empty their warehouses and get that milk onto the highways where the police couldn't find it, then move it across the border into Switzerland where it would be at home and out of danger, leaving the path free to sell it somewhere else. This enormous volume of severely contaminated baby milk quickly became a serious concern throughout Europe and, to combat the fallout, Nestlé Chairman and CEO Peter Brabeck followed Coca-Cola's damage control process by first telling reporters, "it's nothing. It's a storm in a teacup and there is no risk to safety. This has more to do with politics than anything else.", stating further that these products "pose no risk to health". This, while Italy's Agriculture Minister was telling the country, "It's unbelievable that defenseless babies should be subjected to such risks." Then, in full-page advertisements in the Italian newspapers, Brabeck went on to claim the 'recall' of 'potentially contaminated' products in all of Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece, was voluntary, that it had taken the decision to recall the contaminated baby milk "autonomously" as a "measure of extreme precaution towards consumers". Another Nestlé executive derided the Italian government's claim of the volume of destroyed milk as "totally absurd", claiming the total was less than 2 million liters, a claim that would appear to be unsupportable at best since more than 2 million liters had already been seized and destroyed earlier that same month in Italy alone, and this second wave affected much of Europe.
It's noteworthy that whenever Nestlé products are identified as substandard or contaminated, company executives seem to often rely on the 'political' excuse as a standard tactic. The seizure and destruction of 30 million liters of baby milk in Italy was about 'politics', and when Taiwan ordered Nestlé products removed from sale for melamine contamination, the company's China CEO dismissed that as a "purely political exercise", as a spokesman did when Nestlé baby milk in China was discovered to contain excessive amounts of iodine. Again, I'm reading between the lines, but 'politics' in this context appears to mean "I didn't have the political connections to prevent this". But sometimes, they do have. In India recently, when facing court charges on baby food issues, Nestlé applied all their influence to have critical sections of the country's baby food marketing laws entirely scrapped, leaving Nestlé, like Coca-Cola, free to poison in peace. And of course, Nestlé executives used all their influence to save the $100 million and the 400 million packs of noodles. The baby milk companies fight very hard to protect their dishonest marketing practices and recklessly substandard production methods, battling every government in every nation, because baby milk is so enormously profitable and sales are still rising almost exponentially. They will never hesitate to exert any amount of financial or political pressure to protect their profits.
Nestlé had many other problems in Europe at about the same time, on one occasion being heavily fined (along with six other baby milk companies) for illegal price fixing. In January of 2013 Nestlé was ordered to pay compensation after hiring a Swiss security firm to infiltrate and disrupt a Nestlé boycott group, and a similar case of planting spies in another Swiss group. Also in 2013, Nestlé and four other chocolate producers in Canada were fined about $25 million for illegal price-fixing. Then Brazil fined the company for violating labor agreements. A year later, Spain fined Nestlé and Danone about $100 million for conspiring to fix raw milk prices to producers by controlling the raw milk supply market. A bit earlier, Nestlé was in trouble in Germany for price-fixing, market control and conspiring to create huge price increases. A few years earlier, there were both a class action and criminal charges against Nestlé in Canada for illegal price-fixing and price manipulation. Then, a French court ordered Nestlé to pay €500,000 for unethical competition for its Nespresso products, threatening customers with a voiding of warranty for using competitors' capsules in the machines. Then the German government fined the company €20m for unethical competition and price fixing across a wide range of food products. China experienced the same problems with Nestlé and the other baby milk producers, fining them collectively more than $100 million for illegally conspiring to fix prices at an extremely high level. In the case of China, the evidence of price-fixing and conspiracy to defraud was so voluminous and apparent that the mere mention of a pricing investigation panicked all the cockroaches at the same time. It was almost laughable to see these company executives in unison suddenly rushing to outdo each other in reducing their prices by 20% or more.
A few years ago, Nestlé were hammered by the Advertising Standards Authority for making the ridiculous claim that they marketed their baby milk "ethically and responsibly". Nestlé's general manager at the time, Arthur Furer, stated, "It is clear we have an urgent need to develop an effective counter-propaganda operation" and, with their billions available in the annual promotion budget, they looked for a way to distract the public's attention from dead babies and other unpleasantries. As usual, they turned to the Saatchi Brothers who do great damage control. One secret the Saatchis learned was that it is possible to derail public outrage by refocusing attention on charity, and suggested Nestlé immediately go on the offensive with advertising campaigns "showing the benefits of Nestlé's financial contributions to charities". And it worked, diminishing much of the inflamed public opinion of the company. In fact, it worked so well that every MNC uses it today as an automatic reflex whenever they are exposed in yet another criminal act. Coca-Cola is a master at this; with revelations of pesticides or chlorine or worse in their drinks, one of their first acts in China was to rush to the media with a list of contributions they'd made to some Chinese charity.
But Nestlé aren't stopping. They are determined to dominate the entire baby milk industry in every country, in 2012 purchasing Pfizer’s baby milk division for more than $11 billion. In some countries, Nestlé has total control of the milk market. According to one media report, Nestle controls 100% of the artificial baby milk market in Brazil, 75% of the powdered milk market and 95% of the condensed milk and cream market.
•Chinese Baby Milk
Chinese mothers justifiably worry about the quality of the milk powder they purchase, and domestic Chinese brands have suffered terribly from the milk scandal of ten years ago. Chinese consumers have a tendency to believe that a higher-priced product is of higher quality, but this attitude is badly misguided when applied to foreign companies since they simply take advantage of this belief to conduct price-gouging on a massive scale, sucking billions of dollars out of China for what are often substandard products. In one year alone, 2012, Chinese authorities destroyed almost 300,000 kilograms of imported baby milk that was substandard, contaminated, or out-dated. It is not a secret that the profits on baby milk in China are at the level of 60% and 70% for foreign brands, while domestic producers are content with 20% or less, accounting for the entire price difference. And that means that Chinese mothers are often spending 10% of the family's monthly income, purchasing the same product of the same quality for three times the price from the misguided belief that the prices of foreign goods is related to quality. The truth is that this relationship almost never holds. There has thus been a strong trend to purchase foreign-branded baby products in the belief that this baby milk, while much more expensive, is at least non-toxic. But this mothers' trust is also badly misplaced because most foreign products are not better in any way than those made in China. The China Consumers' Association said that almost two-thirds of the complaints they received regarding baby formula involved foreign milk brands and that 90% of the complaints were about quality concerns, including the frequent presence of foreign objects such as iron wire and worms in the milk cans. All of the major brands have had multiple serious problems in many countries, and there is there is actually no evidence whatever to justify the conviction of Chinese mothers that foreign brands are superior in any way to regular Chinese brands. But, true to their capitalist roots, these firms are happy to take advantage of consumer concern and triple their prices in China. I have lost the source of the following quote, but it bears stating:
"Any lab assistant will tell you that milk powder is entirely composed of nutrition, and that if you want to cultivate bacteria or other biological contaminants, milk powder is one of the best media for this. Other media might require months to propagate sufficient amounts of biological contamination, whereas milk powder can do the job in 24 hours. What this means is that baby milk powder has a very short shelf life, no matter what the companies tell you, and the only important date is the date of production. For safety's, sake, baby milk powder should be used within a week or two of production, but this is impossible for the foreign imported brands because the manufacturing and shipping cycle usually requires one month before the products are on the supermarket shelves. And that is already too long a time. Like it or not, the safest probable baby food is still the local Chinese brands, in spite of the valid concern about lax production standards, because all foreign brands have had their own serious contamination problems and their predatory practices and price gouging in China is unconscionable."
In case that isn't clear, foreign-branded baby milk is already blossoming with bacteria and therefore past its safe-use date by the time it reaches the stores. Because of this, and because of the influence of foreign baby milk producers in China, Chinese health authorities have been subject to intense pressures that resulted in a relaxing of standards for baby milk in the country. The minimum protein content has been reduced from 2.95 to 2.80 and the maximum permissible number of bacteria has been multiplied fourfold from 500,000 to 2.0 million. That huge increase in the permissible bacteria count was meant to make life easier for the foreign baby milk companies, and could have arisen only from heavy lobbying and political pressure.
As the China Daily stated, "The revelation that our national dairy standards are being dictated by just a few (foreign) companies is simply stunning. National standards and consumers should not be made hostages to corporate interests."
The only reason foreign companies can claim their baby milk is safe to drink and 'meets China's standards' is because those standards have been reduced to permit enormous bacteria content, now the highest in the world. Nevertheless, this doesn't alter the essential point which is that Chinese-branded baby milk is still in most cases safer than the foreign brands, in large part because it will reach the stores much sooner after production. The foreign baby milk producers will now all permit their often-contaminated milk to push the maximum bacterial limits, but local brands will not be worse by this measure.
Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Larry Romanoff is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney's new COVID-19 anthology ''When China Sneezes''.