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If Pediatricians Sold Infant Formula ...

If Pediatricians Sold Baby Formula,
Few Infants Would be Breast-Fed; Since Veterinarians Sell Pet Foods, Few Pets Are Well-Fed

Sandra Scarr

It’s bad enough that baby formula manufacturers -- international giants like Nestle and Bristol-Meyer Squibb -- promote infant formulas to mothers of newborns. Replacing breast-milk with expensive infant formula caused more than 35,000 infant deaths in developing countries and sickened many hundreds of thousands more.

The infant formula scandal of the 1970’s was a wake-up call for public health officials all over the world. In the United States and in many other countries, baby formula makers are prohibited by law from promoting their products as better than or as good as breast milk. Breast milk is Nature’s perfect food that babies evolved to eat.

Even now, breast-feeding, which has no corporate sponsor, fights an uphill battle with infant formula corporations. Formula makers pay their way into hospital maternity wards and medical offices, give nursing mothers free samples of infant formula, and advertise their attractively packaged products in leading parenting magazines.

Fighting off giant manufacturers’ marketing clout is bad enough. What if pediatricians also promoted infant formulas, because a significant portion of their incomes depended on formula sales?

What if the walls of pediatricians’ waiting rooms were lined with shelves piled high with boxes of infant formula and baby foods? What if posters on pediatrician’s walls extolled the virtues of infant formulas and baby foods, and receptionists offered patients money-off coupons to purchase the products? What if, when new mothers visit their pediatricians, doctors tell them breast feeding may not work out so well, so they recommend mothers try Formula A or Formula B, available for sale on their way out of the office. Oh, and for older babies and toddlers, pediatricians sell jarred mush. By the way, let’s say that pediatricians’ markup on formula and baby food products is around 100%, a nice addition to their incomes.

Outrageous, you say? Yes, and, fortunately, this nightmare scenario is illegal. The infant formula scandal was also a wake-up call for the World Health Organization, which developed the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in Health Systems. Physicians are prohibited by international law from denigrating breast-feeding and from promoting infant formula feeding. US physicians are also prohibited from selling infant foods and medicines.

Let’s go across the street to a veterinarian’s clinic. The walls of veterinarians’ waiting room are piled high with pet foods, supplements, and treats. Posters on the walls extol the virtues of various commercial pet foods, and receptionists have stacks of money-off coupons to purchase the products.

Now, when pet owners visit veterinarians, doctors tell them raw meaty bones and homemade diets are not complete nutrition, so they recommend Pet Food A or Pet Food B for “100% complete and balanced nutrition”, available for sale on their way out of the offices. By the way, veterinarians’ markup on pet foods is around 100%, a nice addition to their income. If veterinarians prescribe medications, they also fill those prescriptions in-house, adding more to their bottom lines.

Outrageous? Why not? If veterinarians were prohibited from selling or profiting from commercial pet foods, their nutritional advice would favor more natural diets for our carnivorous pets – raw meat, raw bones, fresh foods – diets the animals evolved to eat. If veterinarians did not profit from selling commercial pet foods, they would stop destroying pets’ teeth and gums with starchy, sugary foods and reduce the incidence of chronic, degenerative diseases that plague junk-fed pets today.

Even then, raw food diets, which have no corporate sponsor, will fight an uphill battle with giant pet food corporations. Pet food makers will pay their way into veterinary clinics, give pet owners free samples, and advertise their attractively packaged products in leading pet magazines.

Fighting off giant manufacturers’ marketing clout is bad enough. Pet health is unnecessarily compromised by a veterinary establishment that supports, and is supported by, huge international pet food corporations, such as Nestle-Purina and Mars. Veterinary medical schools, from research to practice, are compromised by their dependence on funding from pet food corporations. Vet schools' nutrition classes, often taught by pet food manufacturers' representatives, promote the carbohydrate-heavy diets that veterinarians sell pet owners -- diets that are sickening and killing our pets.

Why do we allow such an obvious conflict of interest to persist for veterinarians, when we recognized and outlawed the same conflict of interest for physicians many years ago? It is overdue for veterinarians to be held to the same ethical standard as physicians, so that our pets can live longer, healthier lives.

It is unlikely that the American Veterinary Medical Association, whose institutions and members are funded by the pet food industry, will impose an appropriate ethical standard. Change will have to come from public outrage and legislative action. For more information on appropriate pet foods see www.rawmeatybones.com.

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