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EU regulators set sights on new target: pictures of babies on baby formula

On Wednesday, a European Parliament committee approved a rule to keep an unlikely image off packaging for breast-milk substitutes: pictures of babies. According to the Parliament, images of infants "idealise" the use of breast-milk substitutes and discourage breastfeeding. The new rule is a product of negotiations with the European Council, which gave another reason for ...

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, a European Parliament committee approved a rule to keep an unlikely image off packaging for breast-milk substitutes: pictures of babies.

According to the Parliament, images of infants "idealise" the use of breast-milk substitutes and discourage breastfeeding.

The new rule is a product of negotiations with the European Council, which gave another reason for the European Union to step in. "Difficulty in identifying the precise age of an infant pictured on labelling could confuse consumers and impede product identification," argues the Council’s official position statement supporting the rule.

Parliament says the goal of the larger legislation, which has been in the works since 2011, is to "simplify and clarify" regulations. It eliminates some larger categories and overlapping rules about breast-milk substitutes, baby food, and food for those with special medical conditions. The full Parliament will vote on the rule in June.

"With this new regulation on special foods, the European Parliament wants to send a simple message: infants and people who are seriously ill are not ordinary consumers and the rules on safety and quality must be adapted accordingly," said Frédérique Ries, a member of Parliament from Belgium, according to a press release.

It’s a bit surprising that the EU would take on as controversial a topic as breastfeeding so soon after it tried to ban refillable olive oil containers in restaurants earlier this month, saying they were unhygienic. The move set off such an outcry that the EU rescinded the decision on Thursday.

No such outcry has accompanied the baby images ban — yet.

The EU’s case might be helped by the fact that 84 countries have signed on to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (yes, this exists), which also bans images of babies on the packaging of breast-milk alternatives. As of a 2011 update, the United States had taken no action on implementing the code. The other countries in that category? The Central African Republic, Chad, Iceland, Kazakhstan, and Somalia.

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