Celebrating 40 years of the International Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes

May 20 2021

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Code, today we're launching a variety of new content on our website. Visit our new BMS page to read a series by David Clark, who for 25 years at UNICEF supported countries to implement the Code; meet Kathy Shats, the new legal specialist at UNICEF charged with implementing the Code; explore Code resources; and engage on social media.

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40 years ago, in May of 1981, after decades of advocacy and faced with staggering rates of infant mortality, the world's public health leaders acted: the 34th World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (the Code). Aimed at eliminating the inappropriate and harmful marketing of infant formula, bottles, and teats, the Code has undoubtedly saved millions of lives.

Today, we’re pleased to launch a collection of information via a special page on our website devoted to the Code. It includes articles by thought leaders, including a four-part series that starts today by David Clark, who for 25 years supported countries to implement the Code as UNICEF’s legal specialist. In this short video, perfect for sharing on social media, David discusses key aspects of the Code.

It also includes a collection of global Code resources and a timeline on the history of the Code, with a variety of graphics and videos to illustrate and deepen understanding of the Code.

WATCH a Facebook Live Q&A event with David Clark recorded June 8, 2021.

This effort to focus on the Code is driven by stakeholders around the world, members of the Global Breastfeeding Collective, who recognize that in 2021, the Year of Action for Nutrition, and in the wake of a devastating pandemic, promoting and protecting breastfeeding is more important than ever.

WATCH the Code 40th anniversary launch webinar featuring expert insights and assessments of implementation of the Code. 

While the 40th anniversary is an opportunity for the public health community to celebrate progress – global exclusive breastfeeding rates have steadily improved thanks, in part, to implementation of the Code – we know much more needs to be done. While research over the last 40 years has only confirmed that there is no substitute for breastmilk, the promotion of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) has only grown: the value of the BMS industry is expected to nearly double, increasing from USD $60 billion in 2018 to USD $119 billion by 2025.

Our new website pages aim to provide easy access to important resources, insights and information on the Code – access that will spur new action to adopt, implement, and enforce the Code, to increase investment in and quality implementation of programs to support breastfeeding and to adopt other measures, such as maternity protections, to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding – ensuring babies around the world have the nutrition they need to grow, survive, and thrive.

Implementing and enforcing the Code has multiple important benefits: it protects the health of babies and infants, and mothers and families; promotes economic well-being of societies; and lowers greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production and distribution of BMS products.

Although we have made progress – 136 countries have adopted some provisions of the Code – few have fully aligned their laws with the Code by enacting laws and developing monitoring, reporting and enforcement mechanisms. As the 2020 status report on the Code notes, "The relatively weak nature of monitoring and enforcement measures included in national Code legislation urgently needs to be addressed."

Let’s redouble our efforts to implement and enforce the Code – and build a world where women and children benefit from good nutrition.

Go to the BMS Code page.

Go to the BMS Code Resources page. Have an idea for a resource? ​Send us an email

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