Midwife turns down award

Independent midwife Philomena Canning has declined to accept her award of midwife of the year because it is sponsored by a formula…

Independent midwife Philomena Canning has declined to accept her award of midwife of the year because it is sponsored by a formula milk company.

Ms Canning said Pfizer/Wyeth, the company behind the well-known SMA brand, was attempting to use the good name of health workers to promote its products.

She was among a group of breastfeeding advocates who staged a protest outside the Shelbourne Hotel today where the SMA Know How Maternity and Infant Awards have been taking place.

Danone, the manufacturer of Aptamil and Cow & Gate brands, is also involved in the sponsorship of the awards.


An online petition organised by Baby Milk Action, a UK-based civil society organisation aiming to protect mothers' rights to independent, accurate information on infant feeding, was handed in to the awards organisers.

Ms Canning, a home birth midwife, maintains SMA’s sponsorship of the awards is in breach of the international code of marketing of breast-milk substitutes and violates  resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly to protect infant health.

The code was introduced because of fears over predatory marketing by infant formula companies.

Article 5:5 states: “Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children."

Ms Canning said SMA's sponsorship of the awards was an attempt to reach the mothers of infants directly.

She said: "Health workers and parents - whether breastfeeding or formula feeding - need independent, accurate information on infant feeding which is available through the health care system and mother support groups.

“Pfizer/Wyeth and Danone are attempting to use the good reputation of health workers by handing them awards with formula brand names attached, while using this as an advertising opportunity.”

The direct advertising or marketing of formula milk for babies under six months old is banned under a EU directive introduced in 2008.

Mike Brady, campaigns and networking co-ordinator with Baby Milk Action, said: “We commend the campaign in Ireland calling for companies to stop compromising the independence of health workers and applaud those health workers who have turned down these branded awards."

Pfizer Nutrition has denied any breach of the code and said it “unequivocally supports the principles of the ... code of marketing of breast milk substitutes".

The company pointed out that the code states there is a "legitimate market" for breast milk substitutes where women cannot breast-feed or can only do so partially.

"Therefore, we uphold the second aim of the code which is to ensure ‘the proper use of breast milk substitutes when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information through appropriate marketing and distribution'."

Ashville Media, the company which publishes Maternity and Infant magazine, defended the sponsorship by SMA.

A statement from the company said SMA had been a loyal sponsor of the awards for five years and had never put any restriction on who should receive an award even if that person’s views were in conflict with the company or their products.

“SMA understands that the Awards cannot be defined by any one interest group and put no such restrictions on us that we have to restrict any products/services that may conflict with their product range. In fact the opposite is the case,” the statement said.

“They are good partners for us as by sponsoring the event they celebrate with us the diversity of opinions, methods, products and services that exist around parenthood and raising children – some of the categories are often uncelebrated and unrecognised.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times