Business

Facebook’s failure to stop open containers of baby formula being traded online has put infants in danger, campaigners and charities say.

It comes after a Sky News investigation into the desperate measures some families are having to take because they cannot afford the rising prices of infant formula milk.

Hartlepool Baby Bank highlighted the “horrendous” trade of open or used containers of baby milk that were being traded on Facebook Marketplace.

The Hartlepool Baby Bank founder, Emilie De Bruijn, told Sky News that, in her view, nothing has yet changed on the site. “If anything it seems worse,” she said.

“There are tons of listings, this isn’t a small few getting through, it’s a repeated regular occurrence that needs major work at their end.”

On Wednesday, Sky News found at least 75 adverts on Facebook Marketplace including 16 that appeared to advertise open tubs of formula milk which have been described as “unsafe” by infant health experts.

Facebook parent company Meta, which operates the platform, told Sky News they are taking action following our investigation.

‘Strong ban needed’

After Sky News flagged to the tech giant one of the dozens of live ads featuring open containers of formula, a Meta spokesperson said: “We don’t allow the sale of infant nutritional formula on Facebook Marketplace and we’ll continue to remove listings that break our rules, like we did in this case.”

In response Ms De Bruijn demanded more robust action. “The weakness of their system letting these listings through means babies will end up in hospital after ingesting open formula.

“It needs an immediate, strong ban to protect our most vulnerable. These babies don’t have a voice. Facebook must stand up for them.”

She appealed directly to Meta’s president of global affairs and former deputy PM and Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, to intervene on behalf of British babies.

“My plea to the likes of Nick Clegg who knows these families… they were once his constituents, is to do more…just do something, not words, actions.”

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3:16

‘You’re treated as a criminal over milk’

Paediatrician Dr Vicky Thomas, an infant feeding specialist, said: “The risks are clear – that the contents of opened tins are potentially unsafe.

“They could contain bacteria which could make babies unwell, or ingredients that are not the advertised milk and therefore not safe for babies.

“While families should never be in the position of having to source potentially unsafe products from Facebook, the organisation has a responsibility to monitor and act.”

Read more:
What you can do if you’re struggling to buy baby formula
The latest on the cost of living crisis
MPs raise baby formula theft after Sky News investigation

Meta did not respond to a Sky News request for an interview to discuss their response further.

On Tuesday afternoon in Westminster, MPs examined another of the problems families are reporting – the value of Healthy Start vouchers – which has not increased in line with inflation.

They do not cover the cost of a standard tub of formula.

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Rishi Sunak reacts to baby formula theft

‘A necessity, not a luxury’

Labour’s Andrew Western will lead the debate after growing numbers of MPs expressed concern about the effects that the high prices were having.

Data from First Steps Nutrition shows that the average prices of formula have risen 24% over the past two years in the UK, with the cheapest brand rising by 45% in that time.

Payzee Malika, a mother from west London, has started crowdfunding to buy formula milk for families in need.

“This shouldn’t be happening in modern-day Britain,” she said.

“Formula is a necessity, not a luxury.

“Whilst we wait for the government to acknowledge that and act, babies still have to eat, as a community we need to come together and do something.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Sky News that he was sorry to hear about the situations some families find themselves in but said there is help available to cope with the cost of living.

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