A proper debate on the best way to feed a baby in the first six months is being stifled by an “almost religious evangelism” for women exclusively breastfeeding, the lead scientist behind a new study said.
Mary Fewtrell, a paediatrician from University College London’s Institute of Child Health, said that she could not understand why questioning the policy, which is current government guidance, provoked such “outpourings of vitriol” from its supporters.
Spokespeople questioned the scientists’ links to the baby-food industry, which they said was an obvious beneficiary from a change in guidance.
Dr Fewtrell rejected the allegations, which she described as insulting and upsetting, and a smokescreen “because they can’t rebut the science”.
She said that the scientists had acknowledged in their study that they had provided advice for the baby-food industry, and they carried out their research as independent authors. “If you are doing work in infant nutrition you cannot not have links to the industry,” she said. “Part of our responsibility as paediatricians and scientists working in the field is to advise industry.
Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, challenged the findings of the review as a “retrograde step that plays into the hands of the baby-food industry”. Other organisations, such as Baby Milk Action, issued even stronger rebuttals describing it as “an attack from industry-funded scientists”.
Dr Fewtrell said she could have predicted the reaction, which like previous such stances undermined sensible appraisal. She and others were not trying to formulate policy, but present evidence. “We have worked in this area for a very long time. This [reaction] is partly what stifles any scientific debate in this field. People feel intimidated. If you stick your head above the parapet you get this vitriol. I don’t undertsand where this evangelism comes from. It’s like some sort of religious belief. It’s personally upsetting but we have to press on with this because its the science.”
She added that “lots of people” shared the views held by her and her fellow researchers “but are quite intimidated because they know if they express something like this its seen almost as if its blasphemous”.
Seems like Climate Science, where faith has overtaken scientific curiosity.