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Controversy over UK advertising regulations fueled by Boots’ infant formula mishap

Controversy over UK advertising regulations fueled by Boots' infant formula mishap advertising, Breastfeeding, Dairy-based ingredients, debate, Dosage forms & delivery formats, Infant & maternal, infant formula, marketing, Maternal & infant health, nutrition, petition, regulation, Regulation & legislation, Regulation & Policy, supermarket, UK, Views, Vitamins & premixes Food and Beverage Business

The four paid Google ads from Boots UK Ltd were displayed to users on April 11, 2023, featuring various infant formula products, including Aptamil, Hipp Organic, Kendamil (First Infant Ready to Feed), and Cow & Gate. Posing concerns over regulations regarding the marketing of infant formula, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) found that these ads breached Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) Codes.

Kristy Coleman, partner at Greengage Law, highlights that advertising infant formula for babies up to six months old is restricted by law in the UK. This law is based on the country’s adoption of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. The aim is to promote breastfeeding as the optimal source of infant nutrition. Marketers should not confuse infant formula with follow-on formula.

Apart from marketing, the law also establishes standards for labeling and the quality of infant formula. These regulations ensure that feeding choices are made based on impartial and accurate information, rather than misleading marketing claims for commercial gain.

Boots explained that the advertisements appeared on Google through paid search advertising, with products pulled from the boots.com website using an automatic feed. However, as Coleman explains, automated ads do not exempt Boots from complying with relevant advertising regulations and codes. Regardless of the creation process, Boots holds responsibility for ensuring compliance.

Following the mistake, Boots promptly rectified the issue. They manually removed all infant formula advertising from Google and other search engines. The ASA acknowledged their efforts and noted the company’s awareness of their legal responsibilities. Boots apologized for the error that led to the inappropriate ads being displayed.

Recently, the British supermarket chain Iceland called for an amendment to the law, advocating for shoppers to be able to spend store points on infant formula and promoting a price cut for baby formula. Iceland argues that this change would benefit struggling families. However, according to Coleman, the UK government is unlikely to amend the laws surrounding the marketing of infant formula for commercial purposes, as they prioritize health and consumer protection. The government has committed to adhering to the WHO voluntary code of practice to safeguard breastfeeding rates and population health.

In conclusion, while the food and beverage industry continually evolves with trends in manufacturing, processing technology, distribution, innovation, sustainability, regulations, packaging, marketing, and consumer behavior, certain laws and regulations, such as those regarding the marketing of infant formula, are firmly in place to protect public health and ensure the well-being of infants.

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