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The Public Trust watchdog group Tuesday accused the Health Ministry of a conflict of interest regarding a bill to encourage breast-feeding and its interest in having baby-formula companies continue to pay hospitals for exclusive access to new mothers.

Last week the ministry decided to continue having the formula manufacturers pay for access to hospitals, the organization wrote in a letter to ministry director-general Roni Gamzu.

Today the Knesset Economics Committee will discuss the bill sponsored by MK Danny Danon (Likud ) to encourage breast-feeding. Originally Danon proposed that any formula distributed in hospitals for free bear no branding. That part of the proposal seems to have fallen by the wayside. Also, the manufacturers will continue to pay the hospitals millions of shekels a year for the right to provide their branded formula for free.

Their working assumption is that once a new parent has given a newborn a given formula, the parent will stick with that brand unless it makes the baby sick. The changes to the bill followed pressure from the makers of Similac and Materna, and from the Health Ministry itself.

One reason the two control the market almost absolutely is their access to these new parents. Perpetuating the practice sustains the high entry barrier to competition, Public Trust wrote, and the Health Ministry is conflicted because it wants that "illegitimate" extra income for the hospitals.

But the responsibility for funding maternity wards and nursing staff is the state's, the organization wrote. As the bill is, it will cause more harm than good by entrenching a wrong, Public Trust says. It sent a copy of the letter to the state comptroller.

Danon meanwhile insists that his bill hasn't changed and that while the Health Ministry has its comments about it, so does he. The ministry thinks mothers need to know what formula their infant is consuming; he agrees that the brand be marked, in small letters.

In any case, his principle that companies not get monopolies in given hospitals will remain, Danon says. The Health Ministry did not comment for this report.