The World Health Organization has called on ministers to take action over “price manipulation” of baby formula – as research shows the price of the cheapest brand has increased by 45% in two years.
Via Tom Parmenter, national reporter and Emily Upton, national producer
Monday 13 November 2023 04:46, United Kingdom
The World Health Organization (WHO) wants the government to take action against the rising price of baby formula that is “exploiting” British families.
In an interview with Sky News, WHO criticized “for-profit” multinational manufacturers for “manipulating the price” of their baby formula.
The most recent research shows that prices in the UK have increased by 24% in the past two years, while the cheapest brand has increased by 45% in that time.
WHO has called on governments to intervene on behalf of struggling families and find ways to reduce prices in stores.
In May, Sky News found out the desperate measures many parents are taking to feed their children including stealing formula, buying it on the black market, diluting bottles or substituting condensed milk.
WHO technical officer Laurence Grummer-Stawn told Sky News: “It is shocking to see a high-income country like the UK facing problems like this where mothers cannot afford to ability to feed children”.
Asked whether it was exploitative, Mr Grummer-Stawn said: “Yes, I think we can say that when you see these prices being pushed down on consumers and having to pay extremely high prices.
“They are in a very vulnerable situation, they have children who need to be fed and there are not many alternatives for them and there are no other companies they can turn to.
“You’re exploiting them to increase the profits of these companies, and they have huge profit margins.”
Speaking about solutions, Mr. Grummer-Stawn explained: “We really need government action to address the price issue or by directly helping those families.”
“Rebates can help these families, but it needs to be in a sustainable way,” he added.
“We have to have government action. To create a situation where people have to depend on these children’s banks and food banks to provide this, that’s not a sustainable way for the families get what they need.”
Children’s banks and food banks across the UK have reported an increase in families needing help – often working parents who are still struggling to afford formula and other necessities.
Last month Sky News reported on rations that many children’s banks say they are having to introduce because they don’t have enough donated formula to distribute to everyone in need.
Many charities say they are worried the workload is unsustainable.
Mr. Grummer-Stawn added: “I think what we’re seeing here largely is companies taking advantage of the opportunity when other things are becoming more expensive, so let’s make ours.” we also become more expensive.
“Our concern is that they are trying to maximize their profits.
“And from the perspective of their business and their shareholders, maybe that’s what their shareholders want. They want the highest profits.
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“We’re definitely trying to find ways to reach out to investors and say, ‘you know, where’s the ethics in this?’, and try to get investors to think about investing in a ethical and therefore, do not invest in it. within these companies, or choose the companies that make the most ethical decisions and talk to them about the harmful effects of how these products are being marketed, how prices are being manipulated.”
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Mr Grummer-Stawn added: “At the heart of this problem are families simply trying to feed their children when, for whatever reason, their child has to be bottle-fed.
“We really want to make sure we don’t make mothers feel guilty. This is not their fault.”
The problem, he added, is that “the government has not stepped in and supported them in the ways that they need”.
Although most major manufacturers did not respond directly when Sky News reached them for WHO’s comments, they all told us that higher production costs were responsible for the price increase.
Danone, which makes the Aptamil and Cow & Gate brands, responded that it is facing “unprecedented increases in raw material, production, storage and transportation costs.”
A spokesman said: “Where possible, we always try to address as many cost increases as possible.”
Danone added that it tries to help parents but added: “Ultimately, individual retailers will set their in-store prices for all products.”
Westminster officials repeatedly told Sky News that the government was providing support for living costs but did not respond to WHO’s concerns.