Cow & Gate found guilty of misusing research to sell their brands of formula milk

Released on: 19 July 2011

Cow & Gate have had a complaint against their advertising of follow on milk upheld by the ASA. The ruling states that Cow & Gate’s claim that their follow-on milk “support[s] your baby’s natural immune system” is unsubstantiated. This complaint was brought by the NCT. Baby Milk Action has also won a similar ASA ruling about Aptamil’s follow-on milk advertising.

Rosie Dodds NCT Infant Nutrition Policy Advisor says:

“This is a victory for all parents. It is outrageous that Cow & Gate is misleading parents as to the effects of their product. It is another example of how commercially motivated formula milk manufacturers are tempted to misuse research to persuade parents to use their brand. They have overstepped the mark with this advertisement and therefore the ruling went against them. They continue to use this material on their website in defiance of the ruling.  As a result of advertising, parents who use formula are very confused.”

NCT lodged a complaint In July 2007 with the ASA pointing out that Cow & Gate’s claim was unproven. The evidence that the company provided, purporting to support their claims, was based on a study which was not relevant for this product because:

• Follow-on milk is for babies who are aged 6 months or over. The study used as a basis by Cow & Gate for this claim recruited babies less than 4 months old who were fed on formula milk, not follow-on milk.
• The product in the study was different from the product being advertised with the claim. The formula milk provided to the babies in the study contained extensively hydrolysed cow’s milk*. Neither Cow & Gate’s formula milk, nor its follow-on milk contains cow’s milk that is extensively hydrolysed. 
• The findings of the study are not necessarily relevant to babies who are not susceptible to allergies.  Because the babies selected to be part of the study, were all susceptible to having allergies (either a parent or a sibling had an allergy).

The ASA stated that Nutricia (manufacturer of Cow & Gate) needs to hold, robust evidence to support their claims in any future advertising.

For those parents who use formula the NCT produces a “Using infant formula: your questions answered” factsheet about how to choose, use and make up formula.  Our helplines answer questions on feeding with formula. The NCT is now working on more comprehensive information for parents who use formula milk.

Parents are best served by talking to healthcare professionals and other bodies without a financial interest in formula, for their information.  By its nature, advertising is never impartial.