Babies - Ancho Gosh - July 12 2011
Babies born in Israel. Photo by Ancho Gosh
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A Knesset bill designed to encourage breastfeeding over the use of baby formula has sparked opposition from the formula manufacturers and hospitals, both fearing their finances.

The draft bill would bar hospitals from giving newborns formula without their mothers' written approval, and only after the mothers are told about the advantages of breastfeeding, including boosting the infants' immune systems.

The bill would also bar formula distributors from giving their products to hospitals for free or at a discount, and from paying hospitals to let them give the mothers formula samples. If the bill is adopted, Israel would be adopting the international code of the World Health Organization, on which Israel is a signatory in any case.

Formula that is given in hospitals may not be marked with a brand, under the bill: all it would have is the list of ingredients and code.

By doing so, the legislation would deprive hospitals of a significant revenue source.

The bill, sponsored by MK Danny Danon (Likud ), would also forbid labeling formula provided to hospitals with the manufacturer's name or logo.

It was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this week and has Health Ministry support.

"I see this as another nod to populism and superficiality by the State of Israel's esteemed legislature," said Gabi Barbash, head of Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital. Formula manufacturer Similac pays the hospital NIS 2 million to 3 million a year for the right to be its supplier.

"Our hospital has encouraged breastfeeding for years, but at the same time we provide formula to women who do not want to breastfeed," said Barbash. "The bill assumes women are pushed to use formula. This is far from the reality, and certainly companies are not allowed to go around here giving out their products."

"I don't see the bill as a problem for the manufacturers," said a senior executive at one formula maker, who added that the real problem will be for the hospitals, which will now have to pay for baby formula. Even if the formula packages are not labeled, the mothers will ask the hospitals and find out what their infants are being fed, he added.