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What to do with Formula Samples

November 24, 2014

I’m not going to go on about how mother’s milk is better than formula. We all know that food that comes in a box and has a shelf life is not as good as the other type of food — whole food, natural food, whatever you call it, you know: food food. But infant formula is food for babies who don’t have access to mother’s milk for whatever reason and like me, I’m sure you don’t have any desire to keep babies from food. And just like if someone were to send you a jar of peanut butter, a crate of oranges, a pumpkin spice latte, a bunch of kale, a can of mace, or a puppy by mail, when you receive a box of infant formula by Canada Post it is your moral problem to do something with it.

You can eat it. You can chuck it. You can put it on a shelf in case you need it later. You could try having it sent back to the return address. Or, you can try to get it in the hands of someone who needs it right now.

My friend mentioned that her church was collecting goods to donate to Win House, so I sent my unsolicited box of mail-order formula with her. Win House accepts donations by appointment. I did remove the coupons first, though, as the internets tell me that as soon as the coupons are used, evil robots send more formula directly to your home.

I asked the Edmonton Foodbank about how they distribute formula and was told that it is only given to people who ask for it. Families ask for infant formula by brand and by type. Formula is on the Edmonton Foodbank’s list of “most needed” items. You can drop off donations at any major grocery store, fire department, or take them directly to the Foodbank.

The Foodbank produces a “Hunger Count” report on who is using their services. 841,191 Canadians use the food bank each month and that number is climbing. Of those users, more than one in three (36.9%) are children. If 6% of those children are infants (0-1) that means that at least 18,717 babies are fed by the food bank every month. (6% is likely a very low estimate and is based on a quick gander at census data from 2011 — I expect the number of infants to be much higher because families with new babies are more likely to need the food bank.) Grossly assuming that 6% of the food bank’s population are infants: at least 18,717 Canadian infants are being fed by the foodbank monthly. If 1 in 4 of those babies are exclusively formula fed 6 bottles per day, the food bank needs 10 million bottles of formula a year to support them. If, however, 9 out of every 10 of those babies are exclusively breastfed, only 4 million bottles are needed per year. If bottles cost $2.50 each, a 90% breastfeeding rate among food bank users would save 15 million dollars per year. But still: 4 million bottles would be needed. 4 million bottles. So don’t chuck it. Donate it.

One of the many heartbreaking things about those big numbers is knowing that formula companies are actively trying to tip the balance and increase the number of formula fed babies, whether or not they come from the most vulnerable population sectors. They’d rather Canadian food banks need 10 million than 4 million bottles of formula per year for obvious reasons: it’s a good business model for them to prey on newborns from low-income families. Do I sound paranoid?

This week, Reuters reports that a heap of Italian doctors has been arrested for taking bribes from formula companies (including lavish holidays, luxury cruises, televisions, apple computers, etc.) to prescribe formula instead of breastmilk to their patients. Yuck.

Baby food represents a more than 1/2 a billion dollar industry in Canada.When it comes to preventing predatory marketing by formula companies, Canada is “Failing to Make Baby Steps“. Which means formula companies are free to play their hunger games with Canadian babies. What to do about it? I wish I knew.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Agnes Wurfel permalink
    November 24, 2014 2:07 pm

    Yes, Marlene, when you examine things up close you get an idea of how much injustice there is in the world and how the rich actually prey on the poor.

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