To ensure measures to protect and enhance breastfeeding and infant health remain effective and relevant to the modern marketing and regulatory environment, the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) should revise the content and coverage of the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formulas: Manufacturers and Importers Agreement (MAIF Agreement). Improvements should also be made to the efficiency, transparency and timeliness of the operations and governance arrangements of the Advisory Panel on the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula (APMAIF) to ensure effective monitoring of industry compliance.

The World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (WHO Code) was introduced in 1981 as a model set of recommendations to protect breastfeeding and, when necessary, ensure the proper use of breast-milk substitutes. In response to the WHO Code, in 1992 the MAIF Agreement was introduced in Australia as a voluntary, self-regulated industry code of conduct. Despite significant changes to the regulatory and marketing context, few changes have been made to the MAIF Agreement or its governance and administrative practices since its inception. As part of its commitment to the National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015, DoHA commissioned Nous Group (Nous) in December 2011 to conduct a review of the effectiveness and validity of operations of the MAIF Agreement (the Review).

The Review generated a number of key findings related to the coverage and operation of the MAIF Agreement and the governance arrangements of the APMAIF. On the whole, stakeholder consultations found that voluntary, industry self-regulation remains an effective and appropriate model for the MAIF Agreement. Self regulation provides industry with a strong sense of ownership and encourages high levels of consultation between Government and industry representatives. Many stakeholders however indicated that the MAIF Agreement has become outdated in parts and is not appropriately aligned with the modern marketing context. Review findings also indicated that there is a low level of awareness and transparency of APMAIF operations and the complaints handling process.

Given these key findings, Nous has made a number of recommendations to improve the MAIF Agreement and APMAIF operations and governance arrangements (see Section 1.1). There are three key recommendations that stand out for particular consideration:

  • Firstly, the voluntary, self-regulatory nature of the MAIF Agreement should remain in operation provided it continues to promote the aim of the MAIF Agreement and industry coverage remains high.
  • Secondly, the wording of the MAIF Agreement needs to be updated to reflect modern health terminology and developments in the marketing environment.
  • Thirdly, all APMAIF decisions and appointments should be timely, transparent and clearly communicated to the public.
Adoption of these recommendations will support the MAIF Agreement to achieve its stated aim. The recommendations provide an opportunity to address valid stakeholder concerns regarding the appropriateness of the MAIF Agreement for the modern marketing and regulatory environments. The recommendations will also assist the APMAIF to deliver clear guidance and support increased understanding of interpretations. Greater efficiency and transparency of APMAIF operations will increase consumer confidence in the complaints handling process and the overall effectiveness of the MAIF Agreement.