My enjoyment of Popstar to Opera Star was rudely interrupted by an advertisement I hadn't seen before for a brand of Follow-on formula which had me seething.

Follow-on milk is to my mind an invention of the Prince of Darkness himself. Babies simply don't need their systems assaulted by loads of iron that they can't deal with efficently.

The main point of the advert was to make us think that our babies desperately need iron. How in the name of the wee man we manaaged to survive successfully as a species for thousands of years without artificial baby milk containing iron supplements is beyond me!

The idea that babies need iron supplements, whether they are fed human or formula milk is ridiculous. Most full term healthy babies will get enough iron from their normal diet. What is particularly scurrilous about follow on milk is that it gives parents a false impression that their baby is somehow going to need extra iron that their milk can't give.

Sure, there's not a lot of iron in human milk, but, nature, being clever like it is, provides it in a form which is easily absorbed by the baby's system. In fact, around half of the iron in human milk is easily and unobtrusively absorbed by the baby. Follow on formula is the equivalent of weeding your window box with a bulldozer. It marches in with its tackety boots into the baby's system, and only around 4% of the iron it contains is actually absorbed. If a baby is receiving human milk as well as the follow on formula milk, the good work the human milk does is undermined by the onslaught of the formula. The proteins which bind iron in the baby's gut are overwhelmed and can't work as well.

Generations of babies have survived without this stuff, and a hundred or two hundred years ago, their lives were a lot more physically active than our's.

So what's the attraction to the manufacturers of this stuff? Well, the strict rules on the marketing of breast milk substitutes don't apply to them. That's why you see the adverts with the rosy cheeked happy looking babies which are banned for first stage formula milks. That's why you see follow on milk on promotions in the supermarket.

I think that follow on milk is nothing more than a blatant ploy by artificial baby milk producers to get round the marketing code. I've been concerned to hear health professionals advocating its use and even recommending that it replaces breastfeeding. I would say to any mum who is told this and is worried by it to ask for her baby's iron levels to be tested and not to give iron supplments of any kind unless there is a clinical reason for doing so. Don't be fooled by clever marketing.

If you're interested in any of the issues around the marketing of infant formulas, have a look at the Baby Milk Action website. It has a specific section on follow on milk here.
How sick are you of hand wringing Labour cabinet ministers appearing before the Chilcott Enquiry and saying, um, well, we really weren't happy at the time, but, well, um? Clare Short is the worst and most annoying example so far, but Jack Straw doesn't come out of it covered in glory either. Geoff Hoon feared that the Army wouldn't be able to cope.

I'm probably more annoyed with Clare Short than anyone else. I thought better of her than to say this on 10 March but to capitulate to Blair's wishes a week later on the eve of the Parliamentary debate. I'll tell you what, there's no way I'd have sat around in the Cabinet if I felt that the leadership were going to do something wrong and reckless, especially if they'd made the decision in the derisory and dismissive way Clare Short described. You wouldn't think from the way she spoke today that her decision to back the war helped reinforce the Government's position.

There had already been one resignation from the Cabinet - Robin Cook was prepared to put his principles into action. One of two more would have seriously undermined the case for war.

Of course, as Alistair Carmichael pointed out, Blair was aided and abetted by Iain Duncan Smith's Tories who voted virtually unquestioningly for the war, even though now they're pretending that they were critical all along. This is the same IDS who's so out of step with Tory thinking that he's being touted for a job in a David Cameron cabinet.

All in all, I'm just fed up of people who should have known better at the time trying to extricate themselves from any blame for the consequences of their actions. Clare Short needs to wake up to her collusion in a war that killed 179 of our soldiers and heaven knows how many Iraqi civilians, that made us less safe, and reduced our standing in the world.
I'm almost scared to write this in case it all goes horribly wrong again, but I have to give credit here it's due. We appear to have heat again. And hot water! Don't think I've forgotten how utterly useless Homeserve and their agents Vaillant (proper spelling this time) were yesterday. I won't, not for a long time. They have, though, redeemed themselves today.

However, I got an e-mail to the blog e-mail address from one of the managers in Vaillant saying that they wanted to restore my faith in the company. I replied with a little more detail than I gave here yesterday and they sent somebody out this evening. The poor man who was sent out was one of their senior technicians who covers all of Scotland but, fortunately, lives a few miles up the road. He could not have been nicer and he left he his mobile number without being asked and without checking whether I was a scary stalker who would ring him in the middle of the night, which, for the avoidance of doubt, I would never do. I'm quite protective of people's work life balance even if I don't tend to practice what I preach myself - which is partly why I'm in the health mess I'm in at the moment.

Thankfully the problem seems to have been easily resolved - although there may be another one which isn't covered by the contract (but may be by another contract I have).

I am wondering, though, how many people put up with terrible service every day. I will be watching out for Homeserve and their agents from now on, given that everyone who replied on various internetty places who had ever had anything to do with them said they were various degrees of bloody awful. Useless was the best assessment of their performance I got.

I said to them in my e-mail to them today that I wanted them to use my feedback to provide a better service for everybody. The two people I've dealt with today were really good and made a big effort, despite the fact that the original problem had nowt to do with them. The guy who came out went out of his way to do and it is very much appreciated.

One amusing legacy from the last few days is that Anna has made it quite clear that she likes the hot water bottle lark and wants one tonight despite the fact that it's warm again.



February 2010

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