An aggressive marketing campaign for a New Zealand brand of breast milk substitute – including giveaways to new parents in a hospital – has been condemned as “appalling” and “completely illegal” by a body that monitors Cambodia’s strict rules on the marketing of formula milk.
The Facebook page of Bibere Cambodia, an infant milk substitute brand owned by Auckland-based Export New Zealand Ltd, shows what appears to be a young father, apparently at Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, receiving a Bibere branded bag.
“Congratulation for your new member and stay healthy with a new bright ‘Bibere GOLD’, product of New Zealand,” says the caption above the picture on a web page containing numerous images and a video promoting the brand.
The Cambodian government outlawed all advertisements and promotions of formula milk in 2005 with Sub-Decree 133, which specifically prohibits promotion of the product in a hospital or health centre.
“This Facebook page is like an advertisement, and advertising formula milk is against the law in Cambodia, and worldwide is against the WHO code,” said Annelies Allain, director of Ibfan-ICDC, which monitors the implementation of laws on breast milk substitutes on behalf of the WHO.
Speaking to a food industry news website on Monday, Export New Zealand director Chris Berryman said his company was unaware of the Facebook page and would ask his Phnom Penh-based Cambodian distributor Nutrilatt Master “to make changes”.
Allain, however, was sceptical of the company’s commitment.
“The New Zealand company has no business not knowing the law,” she said. “They blamed the local person, but that is an easy way out for big companies.”
Yesterday, the Bibere Cambodia Facebook page was still live, and still showed the father receiving the free Bibere sample. Nutrilatt Master’s own Facebook page contained advertisements for its own brand of formula milk with a banner proclaiming: “Nutrilatt, the smarter growing up milk powder.”
When asked yesterday why his company was flouting the law, Nutrilatt’s director – who would only identify himself as Mr Pim – promised to take down the adverts for Nutrilatt and said he had previously instructed his IT team to remove the photo of the new parent from the Bibere Cambodia page. He could not say whether other promotional materials would be taken down.