Tougher fines should be imposed on companies which breach formula milk rules, ministers have been told amid concerns that existing laws are not being fully enforced.
SNP MP Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) also wants parents to have greater access to impartial information, with tighter controls on advertising in medical journals and promotion of formula for infants and young children.
She told the Commons that follow-on toddler milks are “not necessary at all” as a healthy balanced diet would give young children all the nutrients they require, with concerns raised over the high sugar content and cost of the products.
Ms Thewliss said there have been no prosecutions under the current regulations – which, among other things, seek to control promotions in shops and ingredients – since 2003 despite “numerous flagrant breaches”.
MPs heard a fine of up to £5,000 can be levelled against those who contravene or fail to comply with the regulations.
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Moving her Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertising and Promotion) Bill, Ms Thewliss told the Commons: “Given the size and scale of the companies and industry, that level of fine would barely register at all.
“Contrast this with Romania, which has recently signalled its intent to bring in a new law banning the promotion of infant formula products for children up to the age of two.
“Breaching these rules would constitute a criminal offence, with fines of up to 100,000 Romanian leu – the equivalent of around £19,000.
“This is a step in the right direction and would put down a marker to formula companies that failure to comply is not going to be a mere slap on the wrists.”
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Opening her remarks, Ms Thewliss also said: “We all expect that the food we consume is safe. We’d like to hope the standard of that food is monitored, that the advertising which tries to encourage us to buy it is accurate, and should that not be the case that the companies involved will be published for misleading us.
“We expect health professionals to be knowledgeable and for them to be able to give impartial advice on foods from a position of expertise.
“And we expect parents to have access to information so they can make informed choices about how they feed the most vulnerable and precious people in our society – babies and young children.
“Unfortunately that’s not the case.
“The present means of regulating products intended for babies and children – the Infant Formula and Follow-On Formula Regulations – has loopholes and is not enforced in any meaningful way.”
Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chairwoman of the Health Select Committee, is among the MPs backing the Bill.
Ms Thewliss asked for it to be given a second reading on February 24, although it is highly unlikely to become law without Government support.