Spilt milk

For most of us, going to the supermarket is a dull necessity of everyday life. For Mark Thomas (27 August), it is something akin to a political act. If only we bought a different brand of chocolate bar, coffee or cereal, he suggests, we could strike a blow for the countries of the developing world against the large multinational corporations. How disappointed he must feel that the overwhelming majority of working people shop according to what is jangling in their pockets not preying on their minds.

It might be true that breast milk is marginally better for the health of small babies than the infant formula milk produced and promoted by Nestle. However, there is simply no evidence to suggest that more than a million infant lives could be saved if mothers in the developing world stopped bottle-feeding their babies. The World Health Organisation has denied ever making such a remark regarding the relationship between the use of infant formula milk and infant mortality rates.

I am confident that mothers in the developing world understand the advantages of breastfeeding. Yet I also understand why many mothers balance that advantage against the need to earn money - or, heaven forbid, their own comfort. Clearly, Mark Thomas does not. Presumably he believes that mothers in the developing world, unlike their western counterparts, should be tied to hearth and home looking after their children.

R C V Nash
London E11

Mark Thomas states that "any activist or campaigner should be able to tell you about the problems of powdered baby milk" and mentions the links "between infant mortality and the misuse of baby milk formula". Anyone involved in the health service should be able to tell you about the problems of using any kind of cows' milk to feed human babies.

For example, Sir Douglas Black, one of the most respected medical figures in the country, has stated quite categorically: "Milk is a major killer. It is nonsense to give it to children." Professor Eliezer Kaplinski, the head of a cardiology department, has gone on record saying that the only thing worse for human health than cows' milk is smoking. The many doctors and other health experts speaking out against the consumption of cows' milk can be readily accessed on the excellent www.notmilk.com website. Even Benjamin Spock, having given dangerous advice over many years, came to realise he was wrong and started speaking out against dairy milk products.

It's not baby milk formula that we should be boycotting, but all dairy products.

Sandra Busell
Edinburgh

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The love of a robot