The World Health Organisation’s call for government action over “exploitative” formula milk prices “cannot be ignored”, an MP has said.
Alison Thewliss, an SNP MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding, told Sky News the WHO’s intervention must lead to government action on behalf of families.
The Glasgow Central MP raised the dangers of high formula prices in the House of Commons the day after Sky News interviewed the WHO from Geneva.
The WHO’s lead on infant feeding, Laurence Grummer-Strawn, said formula companies are “exploiting” families with high prices and pleaded with the government to take more action to support parents.
In the Commons, Ms Thewliss said the situation was “an absolute catastrophe for those who rely on infant formula but a bonanza for the formula companies who are making significant profits out of this”.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told the Commons: “UK food inflation has been driven largely by global factors and has already fallen from 19.6% to 12.3% and external forecasts expect it to continue to fall.
“The Competition and Markets Authority undertook a review earlier this year of the groceries sector.
“They have not yet found evidence that food inflation is being driven by weak competition but they are continuing their review.”
Ms Thewliss said after: “The World Health Organisation’s call for action cannot be ignored.
“It is imperative that the UK government takes swift and decisive measures to address this issue and ensure that every child has access to affordable baby formula.
“The wellbeing of our youngest citizens should be a top priority, and we must not allow financial barriers to compromise their health and development.
“The response from the chancellor today was far from convincing. Rather than ducking from criticism and passing the concerns on to the CMA, it is high time that this UK government took action of their own to tackle this crisis.”
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In May, Sky News revealed the desperate measures families across the UK were having to take including stealing formula milk, buying it on the black market and substituting it for alternatives such as condensed milk.
The infant nutrition charity Feed told Sky News they hoped the WHO’s intervention would be “the tipping point”.
Erin Williams, the director of Feed, said: “Feed are absolutely with the World Health Organisation on this one.
“We have had formula prices rise way beyond inflation and quite frankly we have had a very vague justification from the formula companies about rising costs.
“When we are in a scenario where parents are buying half-used tubs of infant formula on Facebook Marketplace to feed their babies then I think the feelings and the profits of the formula companies have to come quite low in the list of priorities.”
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Formula manufacturers have blamed increased production costs for the rise in prices but recent data shows that the cheapest brand has jumped by 45% in the past two years while other brands have risen on average 24%.
The Competition and Markets Authority has said the review into the groceries market, including baby formula, will be published this autumn.