Are Your Choices as a Parent Your Own?


Anna Brix Thomsen I Society & Culture I Commentary I May 28th, 2015



I am a teacher who writes about education and although this post is not about education, it does (as all things do) eventually come back to the question of education and in this case: parenting - and whether your choices as a parent, are indeed YOUR choices.

Debating your choices as a parent ought to be a source of empowerment, not disempowerment or disenfranchisement - and that is what I aim to show with this post.

Around this time a year the social media sphere fills up with posts for Mother's Day. There is nothing strange about that, unless you consider the fact that it is a holiday that is (as most holidays are) created for purposes of profit, masked as a declaration of love and care.

A few weeks ago one of these posts caught my eye as I was going through the daily stream of information on my Facebook feed. Someone had posted an image with a text that said:

"Dear Strangers. My Choices as a Mother are not open for Debate. Love, Mothers Everywhere."

As I was reading this statement, I started reflecting on what it means to make choices as a parent and how the statement in itself was highly debatable (hence the title of this post).

I was planning on writing a post about how we, in our society tend to see ourselves as parents as the 'owners' of our children and how this approach to raising children is a fundamental cause of child abuse and neglect in this world. But as I continued to investigate the topic, a Pandora's box of cognitive disinformation started unraveling before my eyes and I soon found myself digging into a 'rabbit hole' of global proportions.


Here is what I found:

After having read the statement, I decided to do a simple Google search to see if I could find any additional information. I wanted to see where the statement originated and who had originally written the statement. As I copy/pasted the statement into the search engine I was surprised to see how many hits came up. One of them in caught my eye, particularly because of its opening statement:

" This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Walmart . All opinions are 100% mine."

Why would a blog on parenting be sponsored by Walmart and how did the statement of motherhood not being up for debate, have anything to do with Walmart?

At the end of the blog post another reference is made, this time directly to a specific brand sold by Walmart:

"Thanks to Walmart brand Parent's Choice ™ for sponsoring today's discussion. Parent's Choice Formulas are clinically proven to be as well tolerated as the national brands. They are an affordable brand of formula, and they offer a savings calculator on their site that shows how their prices compare to name-brand formula. "

This made me curious and I started wondering whether it was all part of a clever marketing scheme?

I then began researching the brand Parent's Choice and I discovered that it was a line of products targeting working class families with cheap diapers and baby formula as part of their range.

I am not entire sure how this woman got sponsored by Walmart to write the post and the statement, so I decided to investigate Parent's Choice to see if I could find a link between the brand and the initial statement I had seen on Facebook. I did not find any direct links, but instead I found something else entirely, something much darker and sinister than I could have ever imagined.

Parent's Choice formula is exclusively sold at Walmarts. The company claims to offer safe baby formula that is up to standards with the FDA. On a segment on their website on why breast feeding is the superior choice, Parent's Choice ironically claim that 85 % of all women who uses baby formula. They write:

"Bottom line: we believe you should breastfeed and consult with your physician on the right choice for you. After all, it's a parent's choice."


The question is: is it really?

Parent's Choice is manufactured by a company called Wyeth pharmaceuticals, a company that previously was known as American Home and that under that name in 1997 was involved with a huge scandal involving diet pills called fen-phen, in which they spent billions of dollars settling with patients who claimed that the pills had damaged their hearts. (See this article from Medicinenet for specific details about this case.) After the scandal, American home changed their name to Wyeth pharmaceuticals.


The plot thickens

According to this article from the critical radio show Ring of Fire, hosted amongst others by Robert Kennedy Jr., Wyeth pharmaceuticals has been charged several times for amongst other things, illegal marketing of their products which they allegedly paid over 490 million dollars to settle.

According to the article, Wyeth has also been accused of taking advantages of gaps in the FDA's regulations so as to aggressively market medicine that hasn't been subject to sufficient testing.

Another article from the non-profit research group The Population Research Institute describes how Wyeth were in another case accused of paying doctors with frequent flyer miles to prescribe their products and settled a case paying more than 100.000 dollars.

In 2009 Wyeth merged with Pfizer and in 2012, the infant nutrition division of Pfizer were bought by Nestlé and renamed as Wyeth Nutrition. Based on yearly revenues, Nestlé is the world's largest food manufacturer and one of the biggest manufacturers of infant nutrition products. As a subsidiary of Nestlé, Wyeth nutrition manufactures baby formula in Canlubang Lagun in the Philippines, although Parent's Choice is according to their website manufactured in "FDA approved facilities" in the U.S.


Nestlé's Aggressive Marketing of Synthetic Formula

According to this article on manufactured depopulation from Aware Zone, Nestlé began promoting synthetic formula as early as in the 1880's. The company's intent of saving babies who otherwise would be deprived of breast milk seemed sympathetic, but slowly but surely an entire business empire was built on the propaganda apparatus of marketing synthetic formula to women who were otherwise perfectly capable of feeding their babies from breast milk. Massive marketing campaigns were launched, primarily in third world countries convincing women that synthetic formula was a superior alternative to breast milk.

In the 1970's, a global boycott was issued by several grassroots organizations against Nestlé for an aggressively targeting developing countries to purchase synthetic (primarily cow milk or soy based) baby formula.

According to this article from the website Multinational Monitors, and the papers to which it refers, companies such as Wyeth (a subsidiary of Nestlé) continues to aggressively and falsely market synthetic baby formula and specifically names the following case from the Philippines as an exemplary cautionary tale:

"This was never better demonstrated than in the Philippines, which enacted legislation to control the marketing of certain infant food products in 1986. Soon after the Philippine law was implemented, Nestle and Wyeth-Suaco, the Philippine subsidiary of AHP's Wyeth, approached members of the Philippine government with a request to exempt their low- birth-weight formulas from the provisions of the law. This product would not be commercially available, but would be donated for those babies who often could not thrive on breastmilk alone, the companies asserted. They brought neonatologists along with them to back up the scientific basis of their request.

Shortly thereafter, the real reason for the companies' intense lobbying was discovered. Wyeth-Suaco's marketing director had sent letters to all retailers of Wyeth products announcing the availability of a new special low-birth-weight formula. The letter explained to retailers that the new formula would only be available as a free service to hospital nurseries and that it would boost their sales of standard infant formula because "mothers will surely buy S-26 Standard right after a short stay on LBW, hence, more S-26 sales!"

According to this documentary titled Formula for disaster created by UNICEF Companies and Nestlé in particular continues to aggressively market synthetic formula in the Philippines to this day.

What is most notable is Nestlé have started targeting industrial countries such as the UK and the U.S and specifically its impoverished citizen groups with its marketing campaigns, suggesting that they are continuing to create new markets by imposing a false demand for synthetic formula through aggressive advertisements.

This is despite the fact that numerous studies (see for example this study from American Society of Microbiology referenced by science daily and this study done by Alison Stuebe that was published in Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2009) have shown that there are direct linkages between consumption of synthetic formula and certain diseases, behavioral issues and allergies and that breast milk is the better choice for most women in general.


So how does Nestlé (and thereby Parent's Choice) do it?

In 2014 the grassroots organization International Baby Food Action Network published a report in 2014 titled Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules that clearly shows how companies such as Nestlé and its subsidiary Wyeth continues to break the code and aggressively target synthetic formula.

On their packaging (see an example here) Nestlé specifically brand their products as 'protecting' babies, as giving them 'optimal nutrition' while simultaneously disclosing the fact that breast milk is the preferred option in accordance with the World's Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

The following is a summary of the report published by the UK chapter of IBFAN

  • Competition for market share has increased . The profitability and the huge size of the market (USD 41 billion) have promoted a rush of acquisitions, with two global leaders, Nestlé and Danone, in fierce competition. Smaller companies also think they can get away with violating the Code with impunity. Dutch Friesland, Swiss Liptis and German HiPP all promote products without shame.
  • Social Media are now widely used as a marketing tool. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, and free 'apps' downloaded by millions, are now effective communication channels to reach mothers with products and 'advice' offering endless opportunities for direct interaction with unsuspecting consumers. Bloggers are roped in to endorse products.
  • Hospitals are still the most effective entry point for companies. New mothers trust health professionals and tend to stick with brands used in hospitals. Company representatives, ('medical reps') are trained to persuade doctors to prescribe or recommend their products, by fair or foul means. In 2013, Danone's Dumex was exposed for bribing 116 doctors and nurses in 85 medical institutions in just one Chinese city alone.
  • Targeting China. Dozens of companies - large and small - are battling to corner the hugely lucrative Chinese formula market. 20 million babies are born each year and the market is projected to reach an annual turnover of USD 25 billion by 2017. In a sudden crackdown in 2013, six companies were fined USD 108 million for price fixing. Five of them are in this report: Mead-Johnson, Abbott, Danone's Dumex, Friesland and Fonterra.
  • Fortified toddler milks , also called 'Growing-up Milks' (GUMs) are used by many companies to cross-promote infant formulas and follow-up milks. GUMs have no nutritional advantage over traditional food but aggressive marketing has made them the best-performing market segment. Sales of GUMs rose by almost 17% in 2012, while follow-up formula sales grew by 12%. Asia is the largest market for these products that, although they are unnecessary, now account for one-third of the global milk formula market by value.
  • Sponsorship on the increase . Companies regularly target doctors, nurses, midwives and nutritionists with free air tickets to conferences in luxury venues, gifts, (such as expensive laptops), lucky draws and the like. The Report shows photo evidence from unexpected corners like UAE, Turkey and Iraq.
  • Sponsorship of professional associations also up . Companies continue to cuddle up to professional associations in developing countries as well as the West. As an example, at the 20th Congress of the International Union of Nutritional Science, in Spain, 2013, Abbott, Nestlé, Danone, Wyeth, Hero, Mead Johnson and Friesland all paid sponsorship fees ranging from EUR 40,000 to 75,000.
  • "Closer than ever to breastmilk". The marketing of formula invariably carries positive messages about breastfeeding, immediately followed by suggestions that the product is 'almost' as good. The current trend is to say that the particular formula is "inspired by breastmilk" or "closely mirrors breastmilk". Wyeth, now owned by Nestle, launched a new product line called Illuma, a "human affinity formula". Nestlé claims it will ensure that Wyeth meets the FTSE4Good criteria, but those criteria do not meet the minimum set out in the Code and resolutions.
  • Idealising the product with health and nutrition claims - continues to be a favourite strategy. None of the claims, like "the most advanced system of nutrients" or ingredients that protect babies from infection, improve eyesight and intelligence, stand up to scrutiny and all suggest that breastmilk and family foods are somehow lacking.


What are the consequences of the increased consumption of synthetic formula?

Synthetic formula is mostly made from cow's milk or soy, both of which are ingredients that have been linked to allergies, chronic disease and GMO's. According to this article by the New York times, Parent's Choice organic formula for example contains maltodextrin, a synthetic sweetener, which has no nutritional value for anyone, let alone a small child. It is added as a form of carbohydrate, but its primary function is to make the formula taste good. It is no wonder that child obesity is skyrocketing and who knows what other consequences an entire generation (according to Parent's Choice 85 % of all women) literally raised on synthetic formula has caused.

In conclusion, Walmart markets its synthetic baby formula, manufactured by Wyeth nutrition in the Philippines for Nestlé as "Parent's Choice", as a product that is affordable for low-income households. So after having targeted the poorest third world countries, Nestlé is now going after the most impoverished in the developed countries, the people who are most vulnerable due to lack of education and social security.


Are your choices as a parent YOUR own?

It should be obvious by now that your choices as a mother are not your own. And therefore, your choices should be up for debate. The fact that a company creates a brand called "Parent's Choice" in an economy where mothers have to leave their newborns to go work at places like Walmart for close to nothing and therefore are unable to breastfeed them, makes the irony complete.

If you happen to be someone who are using or who have used synthetic formula to feed your child, I am not saying this to offend you and I most certainly understand that not all mothers have the option to breastfeed.

Even the fact that a demand for synthetic formula has been created through mothers having to work while having nursing children is a product of this very system, and it doesn't have to be this way.

I am also pretty sure that most of us have some Nestlé product in our cupboards; they do after all manufacture over 8000 global brands of food, beverages, medicine and cosmetic products.

I am not saying that the solution is to boycott these companies, because the entire idea of empowerment through 'consumer democracy' is (unfortunately) yet another example of sophisticated cognitive disinformation where we as slaves of the system are led to believe that we can free ourselves from the shackles of enslavement using the very same shackles to apparently 'free ourselves'. Because despite the fact that Nestlé was boycotted massively in the 70's and 80's they continue to be one of the biggest and most profitable countries in the world, even going as far as privatizing water supply in several parts of the world.

The solution is as always education and here I am talking about real education, which is self-education, exactly as I have demonstrated here through my investigations in this post, which is something that anyone can do, through which one can empower oneself in getting to know and understand a subject in depth as well as disclose any veils of disinformation that may be presented as facts.

The point is that if we do not debate the choices we make (especially as parents) we are left vulnerable and isolated and unable to learn from one another, let alone our own mistakes and this is then what we'll pass onto our children, thereby perpetuating the kind of disempowerment that we as consumers are exposed to by blindly trusting what companies tell us.

It is thus presumptuous to assume that we as parents instinctively know what is best for our children, especially in a world that is militaristically held in an iron grip by a marketing and propaganda apparatus of enormous proportions forcing its way into the most intimate spaces of our lives.

We must be able to admit that most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have no idea what we are doing or what is best for us in this world. We are all products of the same system where only a handful knows what is actually going on and at every turn there are carefully orchestrated forms of predictive programming 'guiding' us to see and interact with the world and each other in a specific way, as we exist only to fulfill an agenda that is to the absolute detriment of all life on the planet, including our own.

It is imperative that we each start educating ourselves and start seeing through the veils of cognitive disinformation, because that is where real empowerment becomes possible. Then you can for example as a mother make a real educated decision about what is best for your baby and yourself.

But it is not about demanding a better system for women. It is not about demanding more information about what ingredients go into the food we feed our children. It is about creating a new foundation for ourselves on this planet, a foundation that is based on equality, on sustainability, on common sense and on absolute transparency.

If we are not willing to debate our choices as parents, we will remain enslaved to accept a system that does nothing but make us sick - and not only that, we will ensure that our children remain enslaved too and thus ultimately that nothing will change on the planet.

So dear mothers, let's debate your choices. Do not be afraid of admitting that you do not know everything. Learn to see through the veil that is offered to you on a golden platter by the consumerist system. Learn to understand your own psychological trigger points - so that when you make decisions, you do so based on your own common sense and self-honesty and not within an illusion sold to you by a giant corporation, that you have a choice - when the fact is that you don't. If you want what is best for your child, your choices should always be up for debate.

Changing the world happens through children growing up and seeing the world differently than we do today and thereby start acting differently. They cannot do that if we do not stand as living examples of change, if we do not encourage them to think critically and question their choices. And how can we do that if we are not even willing to question our own?