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Should We Go to the Fair?

Norma Escobar
Wilmington NC USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 3, July-August-September 2006, p. 71

Complying with LLLI policy of support for the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes when exhibiting at special events.

Our LLL Group has been given the opportunity to exhibit in our city's annual baby fair. It seems like it is a good chance to promote breastfeeding and LLL to parents who would perhaps not know about us any other way. However, there will also be formula and bottle manufacturers exhibiting. Would it be a violation of the WHO (World Health Organization) Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes for us to participate?

A relevant question is: "Is it appropriate for LLL to participate in an event where there are blatant Code violations taking place?" The short answer to this question is: Sometimes, depending on the culture, the local community, and particular events. While the Code does not address this situation directly, there are some questions you may want to ask yourself before you decide whether to participate or not.

  1. Is the event being organized by the formula /baby food/baby bottle companies or are they just there as exhibitors? If they are the main organizer or sponsor, then your participation might be seen as a conflict of interests. Of course some of them want you to participate so that they can clean up their image and gain credibility. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated into making these Code violators look better.
  2. Be aware that manufacturers sometimes use "choice" as a very effective marketing technique. Your presence at an event of this nature may make breastfeeding appear as just one more choice, much like the choice between "Pepsi" or "Coke." The notion of breastfeeding as a choice is a fairly recent one. In breastfeeding friendly cultures, breastfeeding is the way to feed babies, and babies are seen to have the right to receive their mother's milk.
  3. Do you want to compete with commercial baby food manufacturers and their expensive professional booths, hostesses dressed in colors that match their company logos, and myriad of free glossy handouts and samples? The truth is that the Code was written to stop these kinds of marketing practices because breastfeeding should not have to compete with these tactics. Article 5.5 of the Code requires that companies do not seek contact with pregnant women or mothers of young children. If you decide to exhibit, you will want to present an image appropriate to the setting.

So what is a Leader to do? Some Leaders feel strongly that having a presence in these kinds of events is vital, while others have mixed feelings. Different Groups all over the world have come up with a variety of creative solutions to similar situations:

  • Some Groups in the US sponsor nursing and diaper (nappy) changing stations and stipulate that they be located far away from commercial baby food manufacturer exhibits.

  • LLL Canada worked with their country's main baby fair organizers to make them aware of Code issues and managed to effect changes that made it easier for them to participate in the baby fairs.

  • LLL Canada and LLLI have invested in professional exhibit booths that they loan out to Leaders, specifically for these types of events.

  • LLL in Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA sponsors their own annual baby fair. It is a Code compliant event (no violators allowed) and a wonderful fundraiser for them. A mothers' group in Ireland has done the same.

  • Groups in Mexico use these opportunities to hand out pamphlets on the benefits of breastfeeding, risks of formula feeding, LLL meeting information and phone numbers while standing outside the venue -- far enough away so that they don't have a problem with security.

  • LLL in the Netherlands participates in these exhibits and makes sure all parents get their information while saying things like:

    "We are not as glossy, because we don't have anything to sell."
    "I can't sell you your own breasts."
    "Although we cannot afford those beautiful displays, mothers can always afford breastfeeding."
    "Breastfeeding is free."
  • Some Leaders use these events as a time to monitor and report Code violations to their local IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) offices.

As you think about an event like this, another point to consider is: Does your Group have enough people to staff the exhibit and handle follow-up calls and contacts? Some of these types of events run over several days and although it may be a great opportunity to reach a large number of parents, staffing may be a large burden on your Group. On the other hand, mothers with babies are a great draw for many pregnant women and Leaders can answer their questions and make the event a powerful tool for reaching others with the message of LLL philosophy and good information.

I hope that these thoughts will help you decide what to do. Just as we tell mothers, "You know your baby best," Leaders know their Groups and their communities best, so they are the ones who should make these decisions.

Do you have a Code question you'd like to see addressed? Please contact Norma Escobar at normesc at aol dot com or join the Community Network discussion group "Artificial Baby Milks."

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