The World Health Organization (WHO) is developing guidelines that would limit the marketing and promotion efforts of many dairy food companies throughout the world. IDFA opposes the guidelines because they would restrict access by parents, caregivers and healthcare providers to important information conveyed through marketing about the nutritional benefits of dairy foods for young children. This action could push parents toward feeding young children less-healthy alternatives.

In addition to negative public health effects, IDFA believes the guidelines could have serious trade implications for companies that export dairy products and ingredients, particularly milk powders used in infant nutrition products such as follow-up formula and growing-up milks.   

WHO Board Fast-Tracking Approval Process

The proposed guidelines, titled “Guidance on Ending the Inappropriate Promotion of Foods for Infants and Young Children,” are included in the Annex of a January 15 report on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, which was discussed at a recent WHO Executive Board meeting. The board is fast-tracking the process for approval, with plans to ask the World Health Assembly to adopt the guidance during the Assembly’s meeting in May. This action would pave the way for WHO member countries to adopt it as well.

IDFA has launched a strong response to this effort by submitting comments to U.S. government officials, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services and the State Department. IDFA is educating lawmakers on Capitol Hill and asking IDFA members to engage in conversations with their legislators, as well.

Guidance Overreaches, IDFA Says

In its comments, IDFA expressed concern about the “overreaching and dangerous direction the guidance takes toward prohibiting the marketing and promotion of safe, healthy and nutritious dairy foods that are widely recognized as being good for young children during the complementary feeding and post-breastfeeding stages of early life.” These foods include certain milks, yogurts and cheeses.

IDFA noted that the restrictions would affect marketing of the nutritious foods that the U.S. government provides to infants and young children through the federal child nutrition programs. Both the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) include milk, yogurt and cheese for young children based on the nutritional benefits provided by those products.

“The focus of the WHO guidance should be on how to encourage the serving of nutrient-dense foods, available commercially or that can be prepared at home from nutritious and safe ingredients, to provide young children and toddlers with a nutritious basis for their meals and snacks,” IDFA said in its comments, adding that dairy products are a significant source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D.

In addition, IDFA called into question the speed and stealth with which these guidelines were developed and introduced.

IDFA 'Alarmed' by Flawed Process

“We are alarmed by the non-transparent, flawed process by which WHO has developed this guidance and urge the U.S. government to work aggressively toward improving WHO’s processes and procedures to ensure the organization builds and maintains greater trust among all stakeholders,” the comments said.

The International Dairy Federation has also responded with comments, which IDFA is circulating to key officials and members. Read the IDF comments here.

For more information, contact John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, at