How did it come to this?
New Zealand’s economy now depends on more Chinese mothers NOT breastfeeding their babies.
According to Statistics New Zealand New Zealand’s two-way trade with China increased more than three-fold in the past decade. It climbed from $8.6 billion in 2007 to $26.1 billion in the December 2017 calendar year.
Two-way trade with China surpassed that with Australia, our previously largest trading partner, in the year to December 2017.
Not only that but we enjoy a healthy $3.6 billion trade surplus with China. The main contributor to the trade surplus was the increase in exports of milk powder, butter, and cheese to China – which was up $1.4 billion (52 percent) in 2017 to $4.1 billion. In 2017 New Zealand had its highest level of dairy product exports to China since the record-high dairy prices of 2013/14. This increased our overall trade surplus with China to the highest level since 2014.
Exporting milk powder for infant formula is the key ingredient in this trade relationship which keeps dairy farmers happy and our economy afloat.
With 20 million babies born each year in China and China’s baby formula market growing at about 20% per year (2015 figures) the future looks rosy from New Zealand.
However this “success” is built on China’s low breastfeeding rates – some of the lowest in the world.
Data from the National Health and Family Planning Commission shows that the rate of mothers that exclusively feed their child mother’s milk until the age of 6 months is 30% in China’s rural areas, and only 16% in urban areas, well below the global average of about 40%. In 2014 over a third of China’s new-borns were given baby formula as their first feed.
That’s good news for Fonterra but bad news for Chinese infants.
Fonterra’s global cousin Nestle has a longer and more odious association in China.
In earlier times Nestlé encouraged women to use their baby formula by giving out free samples in maternity wards across the country. By the time the new mothers ran out of product, they could no longer produce breastmilk.
Fonterra is benefitting from that earlier “marketing breakthrough”.
According to the World Health Organisation the use of baby formula for young infants has been linked to several health hazards, such as diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections. It also raises risks of allergies and sudden infant death syndrome. For this reason, WHO actively promotes breastfeeding and recommends starting breastfeeding within one hour of birth. It advices against the use of infant formula, as it does not contain the same antibodies as mother’s milk, and adds to the many potential health risks. Mothers who can’t afford milk powder will water it down and the baby’s health often suffers in multiple ways as a result.
For example, millions of babies died, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, following aggressive marketing campaigns by infant formula makers like Nestle. The heavy marketing led mothers to give their babies formula powder mixed with contaminated water instead of breast milk.
There is no sign of concern about any of this from Fonterra who will be praying that WHO does not reach its goal to reach at least 50% of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their children in the first six months from birth.
Fonterra will also be happy the Trump administration lobbied hard against the adoption of a simple, uncontroversial resolutionsupporting breastfeeding at a United Nations global health meeting earlier this year.
Trump saw this as an attack on infant formula companies which are cashing in on a $70 billion industry.
Trump officials are also working hard against regulation of so-called “follow-up” formulas or “growing‐up milks” (baby formula marketed for children over 6 months of age) proposed by the United Nations.
In the meantime the New Zealand dairy industry produces and markets products of dubious value to humanity and at enormous cost to the New Zealand environment.
Surely we can do better than this?