Baby food manufacturer Nestle has once again been accused of violating an Indian law by funding research studies through its subsidiary Nestec.
Scouring through the Indian Council of Medical Research's clinical trial registry, a non-governmental outfit has found two new multi-centric research studies, sponsored by Nestec.
The first study with the title “Infant Feeding Practice and Gut Comfort: A Multi-country, Cross-sectional Observational Study” was registered in December 2018 with the ICMR registry while the second one with the title “Study of milk composition from adequately nourished and undernourished mothers” was registered in November 2014.
The new charges surface a month after the NGO, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, wrote to the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on how Nestle violated the Infant Milk Substitutes Act by funding a research study on 75 babies in five Indian hospitals.
“One set of studies was funded by the manufacturing company while the newly found trials were sponsored by its subsidiary. Both violate the IMS act in letter and spirit,” paediatrician Arun Gupta, the central coordinator of BPNI told DH.
The Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992 as amended in 2003 has a section preventing baby food manufacturers to undertake any step that can influence the doctors.
“No producer, supplier or distributor (of baby foods) shall offer or give any contribution or pecuniary benefit to a health worker or any association of health workers, including funding of seminar, meeting, conferences, educational course, contest, fellowship, research work or sponsorship,” says Section 9.2 of the IMS Act.
After BPNI flagged the first violation, Vardhan asked ICMR to probe. “ICMR has completed its inquiry and submitted a report,” Gupta said. The report has not been made public.
According to the information available on the ICMR's clinical trial registry website, the study on infant feeding practices involves doctors at Apollo Children's Hospital in Chennai, L H Hiranandani hospital at Thane as well as Dr Praveen Gokhale clinic in the same city and Institute of Child Health in Kolkata.
The other study on milk composition involves Adhithya Adhikari Hospital, Mysore; Bharati Hospital and Research Centre, Pune; Mazumdar Shaw Medical Centre, Bengaluru and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi.
"The studies are conducted for academic reasons. At no stage, infant formula products were provided to the concerned hospitals, nor were the products promoted in the hospitals," a spokesperson from Nestle said in a response.
"Section 9(2) of the IMS Act prohibits activities, such as research work or studies, if they are conducted for the purpose of promotion of infant formula products. However, a pure scientific academic study is not prohibited under that section. Nestlé is committed to comply with all relevant laws and regulations at all times," the company added.