Two lactation consultants quit their jobs at Burnaby General Hospital earlier this week in response to tensions over corporate influence of breastfeeding seminars.
Renee Hefti-Graham and Linda Good say that the seminars, put on by Nestlé and replete with food and drinks, are unscientific and biased and that it is unethical for the multinational company to be influencing health care workers by promoting its own products.
“They’re not allowed to wine and dine us and give us information about how to manage infant feeding because the information’s usually not scientific,” said Hefti-Graham, who had been at the hospital for about five years. “It’s usually biased information.”
Savik Sidhu, spokesman for the Fraser Health Authority, said that there was no official partnership with the company, but rather it was an independent seminar to which staff at several hospitals was invited.
Hefti-Graham and Good say it was a small number of patient care co-ordinators who repeatedly forwarded the invites despite being told not to and that the hospital as a whole is not to blame.
“It’s actually the third time in two years that one of the patient care co-ordinators has made arrangements for an event with Nestlé, and every time she’s been told she’s not allowed to do this,” said Hefti-Graham.
“It makes it seem as if (the hospital is) endorsing it,” said Good, who had been at Burnaby General for 20 years.
A seminar that markets breast milk substitutes would violate a World Health Organization order, both women say.
They also stress that they are not against the use of formulas, but that women need to be provided with accurate, unbiased information before making the decision.
“Women in Canada are suffering, paying the price for these free meals, because of health care workers being influenced,” said Good. She added that in a letter to pro-breastfeeding activists, B.C. Health Minister George Abbott said “it is clear that Nestlé is violating the code.”
The most recent Nestlé seminar, scheduled for June 12, was cancelled.