Infant formula was developed to be a substitute when a mother was unable to breast feed.

Infant formula was developed to be a substitute when a mother was unable to breast feed. Photo: Kylie Pickett

Advocates of ''breast is best'' will hear nothing but support from Australia's infant formula association. The industry knows how vital good infant nutrition is and has spent many years studying the unsurpassed benefits of breast milk.

That is why the Infant Nutrition Council supports the International Baby Food Action Network in its calls for greater protection, promotion and support for breastfeeding, made in a report released last week. And it's also why the council is a strong advocate for, and an active member on, independent government-monitored compliance panels that ensure the ethical marketing of baby formula in Australia and New Zealand is in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines.

Ensuring that the parents of formula-fed babies receive accurate and appropriate information while still protecting the critical role of breastfeeding is an important task for infant formula companies, health-care professionals, and government. Of course, infant formula companies need to conduct their businesses on a profitable basis. But, more importantly, they are in the business of promoting the health and safety of infants.

Infant formula itself was developed in the 1850s to be a breast milk substitute to reduce infant mortality and morbidity only when an infant is not able to receive breast milk.

Council members are staunch advocates of the public health goals for the protection and promotion of breastfeeding as first choice and, when necessary, infant formula as the only suitable alternative.

The 30 members of the Infant Nutrition Council, which represents more than 95 per cent of the infant formula industry in Australia and New Zealand by volume, abide by a strict code of conduct that sets firm expectations for their support of these public health goals. Members all deliver a clear message on their websites that promote breast milk as the best milk for babies. The code of conduct also sets out expectations for the responsible marketing of infant formula by following local interpretations of the World Health Organisation's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes as well as expectations for members about food regulations and standards, food safety issues and company representatives' conduct and activities.

The infant formula marketplace is vigilantly monitored by industry itself and any breaches of the marketing code or any complaints received are swiftly reviewed and appropriate actions taken.

The council is aware that there are some less experienced or more opportunistic companies that do not abide by the same codes of behaviour, both here and overseas. When these companies are identified, the council approaches them to discuss their obligations.

But parents and the public can be assured that the vast majority of the industry in Australia and New Zealand behaves honourably. Furthermore, council members have not only made a commitment to this ethical behaviour in Australia and New Zealand but in all the countries we export to and market in. We agree the industry in Australia should be taking the lead and that is what we are doing.

Jan Carey is chief executive of the Infant Nutrition Council, the association for the infant formula industry in Australia and NZ. Its nearly 30 members include Abbott Nutrition, Aspen Nutritionals, Bayer, Fonterra, HJ Heinz, Nestle, Nutricia, Murray Goulburn and Tatura.