The lactivist attack on the Fed Is Best Foundation is a perfect example of shooting the messenger.
According to Wikipedia:
“Shooting the messenger” is a metaphoric phrase used to describe the act of blaming the bearer of bad news.
In this case, the bad news is that the relentless efforts to promote breastfeeding are leading to babies being injured or killed by accidental starvation.
What’s the difference between formula companies letting babies die from contaminated water to increase market share and lactivists letting babies die from insufficient breastmilk to increase market share?
From the lactivist point of view, the bad news brought by the Fed Is Best Foundation has three components:
- Breastfeeding is not perfect.
- Infant starvation is common.
- The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) hurts and even kills babies.
The Fed Is Best Foundation functions as an industry whistle blower and as in any industry, lactation industry leaders are desperate to suppress and discredit anyone who threatens maketshare. It is a sad irony that the lactation industry has become exactly what it despised about the formula industry. As its attacks on the Fed Is Best Foundation make clear, market share is more important than babies’ lives.
And even greater irony is that they use exactly the same tactics as Nestle, the avatar of the contemptible formula industry used:
- Exaggerating benefits
- Ignoring Risks
- Claiming the imprimatur of “science”
Nestle also tried to shoot the messenger and the result should give pause to the critics of the Fed Is Best Foundation. Nestle brought libel charges in Germany:
Nestlé had a fast response to this event and decided to sue the publisher of a German-language translation of War on Want. The multinational corporation did not want to accept the allegations. After a two-year trial, in 1976 the court found in favor of Nestlé because they could not be held responsible for the infant deaths in terms of criminal law. The defendants were only fined 300 Swiss Francs (if adjusted to inflation, over US$400). The judge found the 30 members of TWAG guilty of libel.
It won the libel battle, but it lost the public relations war.
The first Nestlé boycott in 1977 has been led by Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT) and had a large negative impact on Nestlé’s revenues… The boycott campaigners set a goal to improve total infant nutrition and health of babies throughout the Third World countries as well as to resolve this issue on a global basis.
The boycott against Nestlé’s products and the infant formula manufacturers generated the largest support of the consumer movement in North America, and its impact has still been felt in the industry around the world. The Nestlé boycott has been lasting for 7 years in 65 countries and ended in 1984 after the world’s leading organizations took a variety of restrictive actions against Nestlé. The company lost more than $5.8 million in revenues.
By relentlessly attempting to discredit the Fed Is Best Foundation, the lactation industry seems determined to repeat Nestle’s mistake: win the battle yet losing the public relations war. That’s despite the fact that the lactation industry has an advantage that Nestle did not have.
Nestle could not afford to acknowledge the risks of their product. The water in third world countries was often contaminated, and the poverty of the purchasers led to them to dilute the product thereby harming their babies. Informing women of these risks would have dramatically reduced the number of women purchasing formula.
In contrast, acknowledging the risks of breastfeeding would not mean a drop in market share for the lactation industry. Women could still breastfeed and supplement with formula when necessary. But breastfeeding is more than just a business decision for the lactation industry; it is a lifestyle decision. Acknowledging that other mothers may have valid reasons for using formula might diminish lactivists’ sense of superiority regarding their own ability to exclusive breastfeed. That is apparently an intolerable sacrifice.
But the lactation industry, like Nestle before it, is fighting against the truth and will inevitably lose:
Breastfeeding has real risks and refusing to acknowledge them discredits lactivists, lactation consultants and the breastfeeding organizations like La Leche League and the BFHI.
Shooting the messenger, in this case the Fed Is Best Foundation, calls the credibility of the lactation industry into question. Attempting to silence an industry whistle blower often precipitates a public relations debacle.
Most importantly, heartless behavior — letting infants scream in hunger, suffer injuries from dehydration and low blood sugar, and even die — is profoundly immoral. That’s what Nestle did and they paid the price. Surely the lactation industry can learn the lesson that letting babies die in order to preserve market share is not merely deeply unethical, but unprofitable, too.