Breast-Feeding Ads Stalled, 'Watered Down'

The U.S. government has unveiled a new advertising campaign to promote breast-feeding, after months of fierce lobbying to change its approach, ABC News has learned.

Watch Brian Ross' full report tonight on 20/20 at 10 p.m. ET

The campaign, announced today in Washington, D.C., is much different than what was first produced.

In what has been called a battle between mother's milk and corporate power, the companies that make infant formula put intense pressure on the government to change its approach.

ABC News has obtained the ads that were produced but never aired. One of the ads showed pregnant women at a roller derby violently competing and then the message: "You wouldn't risk your baby's health before it's born. Why start after?"

The other spots obtained by ABC News include pregnant women at a logrolling contest and riding a mechanical bull. They ended with a list of diseases that the ads said were more common among babies not breast-fed, including diabetes, leukemia and ear infections.

The ads were sponsored by the government and produced by the Ad Council, a nonprofit group that produces, distributes and promotes public service announcements. The ads were set to be released last December, but some formula companies complained after getting an early sneak preview of the ads before they hit the airwaves.

A spokesperson for the International Formula Council, the trade group for the formula industry, said they support breast-feeding and only objected to the commercials because they felt they were too negative in tone and inaccurate. No company official would talk to 20/20 about the efforts to kill the ads.

In letters to the Department of Health and Human Services, the lobbyists praised the merits of breast-feeding while adding concerns over the message the ads would send to mothers.

Read the lettters: Concerns From Industry

'Dear Tommy'

Pediatricians Weigh In

"Many mothers simply cannot breast-feed, or cannot do so for as long as would be desired, or elect not to do so for persuasive reasons (often economic). For our government to give all those mothers a guilt trip would just be appalling," stated lobbyist Clayton Yeutter in a letter obtained by ABC News.

"When you say 'not breast-feeding is risky,' what you're saying is 'using infant formula is risky,' and that is true and they know it," said Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., and a member of the breast-feeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Gordon added that there is no substitute for human milk, with all of its immune system benefits for newborns.

‘Misleading’?

The decision to put the campaign on hold was made in Washington at the Department of Health and Human Services, which is sponsoring the campaign.

Officials confirm to ABC News that HHS' Secretary Tommy Thompson met privately with formula industry representatives but turned down meeting requests from breast-feeding advocates.

But the acting assistant secretary for HHS, Christine Beato, speaking for Thompson, said she was "not aware of that," and said the ads were pulled because a review found them scientifically inaccurate. Beato met with formula makers but said breast-feeding advocates did not request a meeting with her.

"I met with the industry. Because they kept calling my office every two weeks," said Beato. "Every two weeks."

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