In the summer of 1977 I read an article in Science For The People magazine about the impact of infant formula marketing on child nutrition in the third world. I was alarmed to learn that Marasmus, a rare protein deficiency was increasing in Africa & Latin America in countries where bottle feeding was becoming prevalent. In many cases women who had been given free samples of infant formula products had become unable to breastfeed their children. They couldn’t afford to buy enough formula to meet their children’s needs. Babies were starving to death & often their graves were marked with Baby Bottles, the only item of value their families had owned. First learned about the Nestlé Corporation’s sinister marketing practices. Efforts were underway in the U.S. Congress to get American corporations alter their marketing practices so that women who were able to breastfeed would not be pressured into formula feeding.
This was only a partial solution since the leader in world infant formula marketing was a Swiss corporation not subject to American laws.I wrote a letter to the then C.E.O. of Nestlé & received a reply with lots of glossy colored enclosures telling how wonderful their company was & what a great job they were doing fighting third world hunger. I was skeptical, & in the following weeks as I learned more I grew angry. The fact that children were dying because of a Swiss corporation’s willingness to masquerade salespeople as healthcare professionals horrified me. That fall I joined the Infant Formula Action Coalition to try to do something about it.
From 1977 to 1984 I leafleted, organized letter writing campaigns, and actively promoted the boycott of Nestlé products. I confronted Nestlé employees promoting their products in supermarkets, raising awareness of the impact their marketing had on third world children. In 1984 Nestlé agreed to follow the World Health Organization guidelines to promote breastfeeding. I was relieved & enjoyed my first Nestlé Crunch bar in 7 years. I would learn from activists from La Leche League in the early 1990s that Nestlé had resumed their illicit practices, so I resumed boycotting them.