I once read an article about Alzheimer’s and how, when a person is starting to experience symptoms,
many actions need to be taken to combat the disease, as if one were fixing a leaking roof that
had dozens of holes. In the same sense, we can say the environmental crisis we face now might have
hundreds if not thousands of holes that need patching. One of these quite major and often
overlooked “holes” is that of the manufacture and use of infant formula.
Our basic right as humans is to be fed the most nourishing food that nature has to offer, but of
course we have no laws to ensure this, and the world continues to be duped into thinking that there
are no problems with using infant formula, which is most often composed of cows’ milk. In addition,
there is not nearly enough support for the new mother who might never have seen someone
breastfeed in real life before, and attempts this natural way of feeding, yet does not realise that it takes
time and patience to learn this important skill. Healthy eating starts the moment we are born but
is often overlooked as we carry on thinking, ‘Well if this doesn’t work, we’ll just do bottle feeding’.
Each kilogram of formula generates four kilograms of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gas during
production. Imagine, the methane from livestock contributing to this, as well as the increased water
footprint. There is packaging, transport, and use of electricity to heat the water in order to make up a
powdered formula feed safely. A study done nearly 13 years ago showed that 550 million cans
(comprising 86,000 tons of metal) and 364,000 tons of paper went into landfills every year.
Every day as a breastfeeding counsellor, I come across new mothers who desperately want to
breastfeed but have been sabotaged by untrained medical professionals or their own well-meaning
families who want to ‘fix’ whatever problem the new mother might be experiencing. The situation is
exacerbated by the fact that they themselves doubt their own milk supply because of the sheer
existence of formula milk and a lack of education about how their own bodies work. All that big formula companies have had to do, is to plant this seed of doubt with subtle (and also not so subtle) advertising of their products. In developing countries, their products are not only advertised, but also pushed onto
new mothers who are told that formula is superior to their own breastmilk and are given a free months’ supply to ensure that the ceasing of their own lactation over the course of that time will guarantee these enterprises the sale of their products. This practice is often done with the full knowledge that there might not be a clean water supply and that babies’ lives will be at risk. According to The World Health Organization, 11.6% deaths of children under five could be prevented by breastfeeding. WHO says-‘Globally, breastfeeding has the potential to prevent about 800,000 under-five deaths per year if all children 0–23 months were optimally breastfed.’
A further concern as we work towards sustainable farming and face the challenges of selling crops
locally to reduce our carbon footprint is that we have an entire farming industry producing an
unnecessary and ultimately dangerous product marketed as a safe substitute for a mother’s own milk.
When we think about healthy eating, our minds should go back to the beginning of life and how each
drop of a mother’s milk contributes to her own health as well as the health of her baby.
Descriptions of the sheer magic of this living fluid have been documented in encyclopedia-sized texts,
and yet two thirds of the world are using formula, including those who purchase toddler milk, an
invention of big formula, created as a ploy to circumvent the ban on advertising infant formula milk.
The magnitude of the environmental impact caused by infant formula is mind boggling. When
considered in the context of farming, it is something everyone (especially our precious earth) can do