Netherlands: Online Sales Of Baby Food: Foodwatch vs. Webshops

Commercial communication about baby food is a sensitive topic. For instance, the 'breastfeeding lobby' has for many years been battling against the promotion of bottle feeding. Foodwatch also recently took action, with 29 (!) complaints to the Dutch Advertising Code Authority (RCC).

The complaints were targeted against the offer of baby
food in a number of webshops. Foodwatch was
screaming blue murder: the retail trade and
manufacturers, en masse, didn't give a damn about the
rules on offering baby food products. The RCC did indeed
give a number of webshops a slap on the wrist. Since
December 2014, webshops have had to provide the
compulsory labelling information, thus enabling the consumer to read all the label information (as in an ordinary store) before buying. This obligation is set out in the European Labelling Regulation, which imposes rules for the provision of information to consumers about foodstuffs. However, it emerges that many webshops are still not up to speed on this. Sometimes they do state the general compulsory information in terms of the Regulation, such as nutritional values, but there are extra labelling requirements for special products such as baby food. A webshop also has to satisfy these requirements. This isn't really happening universally yet. For example, the obligatory warning that breastfeeding is a preferable option to bottle feeding is regularly missing from online sales of baby food. At the same time, the "blue murder" being declaimed by Foodwatch requires some qualification. Foodwatch is on about "a distressing failure of self- regulation". We feel this is going a bit far. The manufacturers of baby food generally comply closely with the rules and have recently imposed extra rules for the promotion of baby food via the Baby Food Advertising Code of Conduct. These rules will shortly become part of the Advertising Code. Supermarkets and pharmacies also generally comply properly with the statutory provisions. The fact that the retail trade may not yet have a clear understanding of the provisions when it comes to online sales does not mean that self-regulation as a whole is failing. This is also clear from the pronouncements made by the RCC: it has advised the webshops to improve the provision of information but, with a few exceptions, it has left the manufacturers alone.

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