Archive for October, 2007

Make Formula Safer Campaign!!!
No recourse – deaths from contaminated formula are “acceptable”

Boycott Nestlé – protect infants
A blog reposting… this one is by Mike Brady:
“I am Campaigns and Networking Coordinator at Baby Milk Action, which promotes the Nestlé boycott in the UK and works closely with partners in the International Nestlé Boycott Committee. This is a daily look behind the scenes of the work of Baby Milk Action on the boycott, other baby food companies and wider infant feeding issues. See the Baby Milk Action website if you are unfamiliar with our work.
Friday, October 05, 2007

Ruling in Belgium : deaths from contaminated formula are to be accepted
News arrives from Belgium that a family has lost its legal action against Nestlé and the hospital that put their new-born child onto infant formula that turned out to be contaminated with bacteria. The effect of the ruling is to suggest that deaths from intrinsic contamination of formula, which are rare, are to be expected and accepted.The couple’s son became ill with meningitis and died at 5 days old. This was linked to Enterobacter Sakazakii contamination in Nestlé Beba infant formula, prompting a recall. See the International Baby Food Action (IBFAN)’s press release from 10 May 2002.This death and others in France prompted action at the World Health Assembly. IBFAN called for improved labelling to warn of the risks and how to reduce them. This call was reflected in the Resolution adopted shortly afterwards (WHA 55.25) and more explicitely in 2005 (WHA 58.32) after the World Health Organisation had held an expert meeting.We are now working for improved labelling standards at the Codex Alimentarius Commission, whose standards are seen to carry greater weight than World Health Assembly Resolutions in that the World Trade Organisation looks to them if evaluating whether national measures are proportionate should there be a trade dispute. The baby food industry is at Codex in force, attempting to weaken measures that could impact on its profits. We have called for greater transparency on conflicts of interest in the past, much to the annoyance of the Chair (see Update 37 for example).The issue of contamination of powdered infant formula has been known about for decades and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States quotes a study that shows it is worryingly common, found in 14% of tins surveyed. See my earlier blog on Enterobacter Sakazakii for links to references.In 2005 the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued guidance for parents saying to use water of at least 70 Deg. C to make up the formula to kill any pathogens. As we reported in Update 38 the Northern Ireland Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly Government issued booklets giving this information and stating clearly that formula is not sterile and may contain harmful bacteria.As we have exposed, companies have still not brought their labels into line, despite issuing new labels this year in response to a crackdown on the use of illegal health claims. See our press release:http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press10aug07.htmlThe UK Government is revising the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations and last week we submitted a report on behalf of the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG) which calls for a statutory requirement for warnings and instructions on labels to be in line with official guidance. The Food Standards Agency had proposed a voluntary agreement. As the companies didn’t bring their labels into line when they had the chance, it is clearly not sensible to rely on their good intentions.The BFLG report refers to a spot check of company carelines we conducted. This found that advisors are giving advice to parents that contradicts the independent, expert guidance from the Food Standards Agency and World Health Organisation. We have heard claims on carelines that powdered formula is sterile until opened and to make up formula using water at room temperature, which has been pre-boiled. This is dangerous information. The fact is the water needs to be added to the formula at high temperature to kill any bacteria. We will issue a full report on the monitoring in due course.My view is that it should be a criminal offence for companies to deny parents critically important information about reducing risks from formula on the label.I understand the Judge in the Belgium case cleared the hospital of negligence as it was not the source of the infection and cleared Nestlé as it had complied with the relevant legislation. No matter that Nestlé was well aware that powdered infant formula is not sterile and may contain harmful bacteria, which it did not warn about on its labels. The parents are in my view justifiably aggrieved at only learning this information after their child died.If more infants die from contaminated formula prepared using the advice from the carelines or labels a UK judge may well rule company had complied with the law. This is why we think it is so dangerous for the FSA to pursue a voluntary agreement with the industry about warnings and instructions instead of setting out in the legislation that they must comply with official guidance to parents.Fortunately deaths from contaminated formula are rare, though it is unknown how much the higher incidence of gastroenteritis and other illness is due to contamination as this has not been monitored.Personally I think the idea that deaths from contaminated formula are to be expected and accepted, as the Belgian ruling suggests, is not the correct response to the tragedies that have occurred. Action must be taken to ensure parents have the information they need to reduce risks.If you agree please support our work and sign up to receive information from our making formula use safer campaign.”


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Supernanny Supersucks
I have always despised this lady and the show. Read this article… sounds like Jo Frost is more a brand than a phenomenon. (I saw this on www.thecowgoddess.com – thanks Heather!)


‘You’ve been very, very naughty’She’s an unqualified nanny, styled to look like a dominatrix, who tells us how to raise our children. So why do we listen? Decca Aitkenhead meets Supernanny Jo Frost Saturday July 22, 2006The Guardian

Like most successful TV makeover shows, Supernanny follows a finely engineered format. In each episode, Jo Frost visits a family home and finds small, riotous children wreaking havoc. She demonstrates to their witless parents her techniques for taming them. These work until Supernanny departs, leaving the parents to their own devices, whereupon chaos quickly descends once again. Supernanny returns, tells the parents off for deviating from her precise instructions, and drills them more intensively. By the time the credits roll, the feral little monsters have been transformed into doe-eyed cutie pies, their parents are weepy with gratitude, and off Frost clips in her power suit and high heels to whip the next dysfunctional family into shape.

What began two years ago as a Channel 4 ratings hit has become a cultural phenomenon, watched in 45 countries. There are now two Supernanny books, a glossy monthly Supernanny magazine, and a website – B4ugo-ga-ga.com – all pumping Frost’s brand of childcare into the popular consciousness. A hit American version of the show is into its third series, and Frost has even been the subject of an Oprah special feature, lauded as an incontestable authority on child behaviour.

More evidence of this reverence surrounded Frost the moment we met. Her PR had brought along a cutting from an interview with a children’s TV presenter who, asked when she had last felt starstruck, cited meeting Frost. “And I didn’t even know who she was!” added Frost, before trotting off an anecdote about answering the phones for a Prince’s Trust charity fundraiser, when a caller pledged an extra £50 if she would tell him: “You’ve been very, very naughty.”

Then we were interrupted by a family of American tourists who had to tell Frost how much they adored her show.

Styled as homespun no-nonsense wisdom, Frost’s methodology has thus far received almost no critical attention. Yet such is the power of television, the Naughty Step is probably now better known than any of the tenets of most important child behavioural theory. Frost herself refuses to think of her approach as a philosophy, saying: “I just have an intuitive gift.” She has never read – or even heard of – any of the leading theorists I mention, and seems surprised to hear that anyone might consider the Supernanny slogan – “How to get the most from your children” – remotely contentious.

“What I do,” she declares firmly, “is just common sense. Just obvious, sensible common sense.”
This is only the first of a great many points on which she and I profoundly disagree.
Frost spotted an ad for auditions for Supernanny in a magazine three years ago. Then 33, she had been a full-time nanny for 15 years. She’d never trained formally, but had fallen into it after leaving school, having done babysitting in her teens. One job led to another, and she began to acquire a reputation as a troubleshooter. Parents would often call, sometimes even from abroad, to say they’d heard about her and could she help.

One of the complaints she often used to hear was that they weren’t “getting enough” from their children, which is where she got the idea for the Supernanny slogan. “Parents were always saying it to me. Just not getting enough.” Did that never strike her as a curious inversion of parental expectations? She might have thought they’d worry more about giving, not getting. But Frost just looks mildly surprised at this thought – and my next question seems to baffle her.

In her famous Naughty Step Technique, disobedient children are plonked on a designated step, to sit by themselves for one minute for every year of their age. But when the time is up, they’re only allowed off if they say sorry, and sound as though they mean it. This final component of the punishment has always puzzled me, so I ask Frost to explain how a coerced apology can ever sound sincere.

“How … ? What?” She stares blankly.

If an apology is a condition of their release, how can they sound as if they mean it?

“Well, children learn how to apologise if set up in that situation. I’m telling the parent, have more respect for yourself, don’t allow the child to treat you like that.”

This still doesn’t really answer the question. But when I ask for whose emotional benefit this apology is supposed to be – the parent’s, or the child’s – she is at last very clear. “Oh both. Definitely, both.”

To say that a grown-up has an entitlement to hear a toddler say sorry is not “common sense”, I object. It’s a radical departure from virtually everything anyone has thought or written about childcare in decades. Frost bridles and glares.

“Well, if it goes against what people have wrote so be it. It’s what I believe in. I think it’s an important lesson for a child. How to behave humanely toward another human being.”
Moral correction is a strong theme of Supernanny. After Frost has observed children running riot at the start of each show, she delivers her analysis of what is going wrong. Often she is really quite angry with the parents, and will use words like “disgusting” and “outrageous” to describe their children’s behaviour. “They don’t show you no respect!” is a recurring diagnosis. “They’re running rings round you,” she will say.

In the moral universe of Supernanny, if children spit or fight or swear it is basically because they can. The only difference between them and good children is that they have been allowed to get away with it. In this Hobbesian understanding of childhood, discipline is logically of paramount importance, and the only measure of a corrective technique seems to be whether or not it works. Frost’s techniques certainly appear to “work”. But they also imply that what she calls “unacceptable behaviour” could never be a legitimate protest. She often describes raging children as “having a laugh”, but they seldom look very happy to me. Isn’t she curious about the reasons why?

“But I am,” she says indignantly. “I am. It goes without saying. I don’t just want to know on the surface why. I need to know and find out exactly where the root of that lies. So in retrospective [sic] of that I do that mandatorially [sic] with the families.”

Are we talking about the same programme? Now it’s my turn to be confused. The BBC has a parenting show called Little Angels, first broadcast a year before Supernanny. But while it focused on the specific subtle psychodynamics of family relationships, Supernanny offers off-the-peg answers, abstracted from any individual context. Even when families are manifesting serious systemic problems, all that Supernanny seems to offer are behavioural strategies. The methods are not exclusively disciplinary, but they are all explicitly classified as “techniques”, and Frost’s book is organised into unambiguous categories – “Problem”, with corresponding “Solution” – as though parenting were like baking a cake, and you just follow the recipe. Even her PR admits: “Supernanny is conflict resolution. It’s not meant to be anything more than that.”

Supernanny does, in fairness, offer some sensible advice. Children who graze on junk all day are introduced to regular meal times, and concepts like consistency and bedtime are explained. But there is no mistaking the fetish for punishment at the heart of the programme. The opening credits of the American version show Frost glowering into the camera, wagging her finger, saying: “You’ve been very, very naughty!” Among the American tourists who said hello during our interview was a girl with a plaster cast on her arm. She said she broke it go-karting, but her dad made an innocent and yet strangely telling joke. “I know this isn’t one of your techniques, Jo,” he winked. “But I can tell you, it really works!” The Prince’s Trust donor did not, I observe, offer Frost an extra £50 to be asked about the psychodynamics of his family.

Frost now looks thoroughly annoyed. She tells me I’m focusing too much on discipline. But isn’t discipline the brand’s trademark image? The first issue of the Supernanny magazine even featured two pages of photographs showing children on the Naughty Step, sent in by parents with captions detailing the nature of their offence. The magazine told me they thought it would be a “cute” feature that “identified the magazine with the TV brand”.

Frost suddenly turns vague when I mention the photospread. “Oh I don’t know about that. That’s just the magazine.” But it’s your magazine, I say. “Well, it’s Ricochet’s [Supernanny’s TV production company] magazine.” Have you actually seen a copy? “Well … I’ve seen it once.” What did you think of the photos? “Er, I think it was just like a gimmick, maybe? I don’t know.”
If Frost is genuinely surprised that her brand is “cute” punishment, this is probably because she won’t see the tension between making entertaining telly and helping troubled families. She claims that the reason why I don’t realise how much relationship work she does is because it gets edited out. But if true, that would only go to show that the best work with children does not always make the best television. Yet when I ask her about these competing interests, she shakes her head.

“My priority is always the family. Nothing will compromise that. Lately, yeah, the families are a bit starstruck. The kids are like, ‘I’ve seen you on the telly.’ But I just tell these families, it’s not about the crew and all that, this is about helping you, that’s why I’m here. It’s not about television.”

But she wouldn’t be there at all if she wasn’t making a television programme. When children think it’s a battle of wills and shout at her “You’re not going to beat me, Supernanny!”, she says, “They don’t really understand what it’s about. I mean, it’s not a game!” But it seems to me that those children have a better measure than Frost of what they are all involved in.

The show’s most dramatic footage is often of children at their most tormented. The more spectacular the insurgency, the more riveting it gets. Does she ever worry that the show is exploiting their distress for entertainment value? “No, not at all. For me what’s important is being able to show the truth and for me that’s a very powerful thing. And if that offends people to watch children having a tantrum then …”

I wasn’t worried about offending viewers, I say. I was asking if it exploited the child.
“No!” She looks astonished. “I mean, my God, I’m for the family. I’m for the children. I would never put children in a situation where I felt I was exploiting them. Nothing is ever set up or derived [sic].” I think she means contrived – but again, that isn’t what I meant. The PR seems to have grasped the point, because she chips in:
“And they invited Jo in!”

Well, I say, the parents did. But the kids didn’t. Suddenly, Frost turns coldly businesslike.
“Yeah but ultimately the parents sign those papers. They sign a contract.”

Sometimes I suspect Frost deliberately misunderstands questions. Asked if she thinks it an advantage or disadvantage to have no children of her own, she looks puzzled. “With respect to … ?” With having a job telling parents what to do, obviously. Affecting airy boredom, as if the question had never crossed her mind, she shrugs: “Well, I’d say where I’m at right now is just what it is. It’s just what it is.” But on the whole, her dimness seems authentic.

She recalls a happy childhood in south-west London, with one brother and parents for whom she has nothing but praise. An obedient child, she left school with no great ambitions, least of all in television. She is still single, and lives with her widowed father. If she’s right when she says Supernanny hasn’t made her rich, she has not been very smart at all about managing her new career.

Frost appears to have given so little thought to the show’s sensibility that it’s hard to know how much of it she even really shares. She may be the face of the brand, but she has no editorial control. It was Ricochet who chose to cast an unqualified nanny in a semi-pantomime role, and styled her to look like a pseudo-dominatrix. The series producer told me this was “serious, educational documentary-making”. But in a crowded TV ratings battle, producers aren’t in the business of educating. It’s their job to work out what will make us watch.

Why do we watch? Supernanny tells viewers that the problem with “out of control” children is not their unhappiness, but the fuss and bother they cause to grown-ups. And five million of us tune in – dwarfing ratings for the more thoughtful Little Angels – which says a great deal about our prevailing attitude to children.

Frost is surprised by how popular the show is among children themselves, but I’m not, for Supernanny is not unlike a children’s story: naughty kids do wicked things, get their comeuppance, and live happily ever after. It’s the appeal to adults that is more revealingly arresting. What Supernanny ultimately offers, and what people evidently want, is a regime for making children less inconvenient. As the blurb on Frost’s latest book puts it so succinctly,

“Want your life back? You need Supernanny!”

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