Breast-milk substitutes complaints procedure

The Ministry is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Code of Practice for Health Workers (the Health Workers’ Code) and the Infant Nutrition Council Code of Practice for the Marketing of Infant Formula in New Zealand (the INC Code of Practice).

The Ministry does this by receiving complaints about potential breaches of either code of practice. If an issue is not resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction through correspondence with the subject of the complaint, it will be submitted to a Compliance Panel for a decision.

There is also an appeal process for Compliance Panel decisions, presided over by an Adjudicator.

The Advertising Standards Complaints Board (ASCB) is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Code for Advertising of Food. If you have concerns about the advertising of follow-on formula or food for infants aged over 6 months, you can make a complaint to the ASCB.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is responsible for administering and monitoring compliance with the Food Standards Code. If you have concerns about the labelling, composition or quality of infant formula or other food products, you can make a complaint to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

If you are considering making a complaint about an activity, you need to consider all 4 codes discussed in this document:

  • the Health Workers’ Code
  • the INC Code of Practice
  • the Code for Advertising of Food
  • the Food Standards Code.

The information below will help you determine which code you consider may have been breached. Complaints about the activities of individuals or groups who are not covered by these codes can also be brought to the Ministry’s attention, which can deal with them in conjunction with the relevant organisations.

How to make a complaint about the practices of a health worker

If you have concerns about the practices of a health worker or a health organisation, for example, they are providing inadequate information to caregivers about infant feeding or inappropriately distributing samples, then consult the Health Workers’ Code. This will assist you to determine which section of the code you consider the activity of the health worker or organisation is in breach of.

Fill out the form below:

And send by post to:

Complaints under NZ WHO Code
Nutrition and Physical Activity Team
Protection, Regulation and Assurance Business Unit
Ministry of Health
PO Box 5013
Wellington 6140

or by email to:
code_in_nz@moh.govt.nz

How to make a complaint about the marketing of infant formula for infants from birth to 6 months of age

If you have concerns about INC member companies’ marketing, for example, an advertising campaign, the content of infant formula information and educational material appearing in brochures or advertisements, or the distribution of samples, then consult the INC Code of Practice. This will assist you to determine whether the activity falls within the scope of this code, and which article and clause you consider the activity to be in breach of.

Fill out the form below:

And send by post to:

Complaints under NZ WHO Code
Nutrition and Physical Activity Team
Protection, Regulation and Assurance Business Unit
Ministry of Health
PO Box 5013
Wellington 6140

or by email to:
code_in_nz@moh.govt.nz

How to make a complaint about the advertising of formula for infants aged over 6 months

If you have concerns about the advertising of follow-on formula or food for infants aged over 6 months, you can make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board under the Code for Advertising of Food. The board will use the guidelines provided by the INC when considering complaints about follow-on formula.

For more information on how to make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board, contact the:

Advertising Standards Authority
Phone: 0800 234 357
Email: asa@asa.co.nz

How to make a complaint about the labelling, composition, or quality of formula

If you have concerns about the labelling, composition or quality of formula or other food products, you can make a complaint to the Ministry for Primary Industries under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

For more information on how to make a complaint to the Ministry for Primary Industries, contact the:

Ministry for Primary Industries
Phone: 0800 693 721
Email: info@mpi.govt.nz

Grounds for complaint

Complaints can be submitted about alleged breaches of the INC Code of Practice, or the Code of Practice for Health Workers. In both cases, the article(s) of the INC Code or the Code of Practice for Health Workers that have allegedly been breached should be specified. Complaints must be lodged within 1 year of the alleged breach occurring.

Concerns about the implementation and monitoring of the Code in New Zealand that do not allege a breach of the INC Code or the Code of Practice for Health Workers can be raised with the Ministry of Health. These concerns will not proceed through the complaints process. However, the concern will be recorded and acknowledged. The concern may be referred to the Compliance Panel for their information and comment, at the discretion of the Compliance Panel Secretariat.

Preparing your complaint

When preparing your complaint, state clearly the relevant code and section that you consider the activity is in breach of. Provide as much information, evidence and documentation as possible, for example, dates, names, location and photographs.

If you are unsure how to prepare a complaint or have difficulty preparing your complaint, seek assistance from your organisation, an organisation involved in the provision of Well Child services or a community group.

For further information on how the complaints procedure works, contact the Ministry of Health at code_in_nz@moh.govt.nz

Complaints procedure flowchart

Flowchart, described below.

This flowchart outlines the complaints process for the Code of Practice for Health Workers and/or the Infant Nutrition Council Code of Practice for the Marketing of Infant Formula in New Zealand. The complaints process is administered by the Ministry of Health.

The complaints process consists of 4 stages and is how New Zealand implements and monitors the WHO’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

Stage 1: the complaint is classified as within or outside the scope of either code

A written complaint is lodged with the Ministry of Health. The Compliance Panel Secretariat decides whether the complaint is within scope of either Code, and therefore eligible to go through the complaints procedure. Complaints that are not straightforward to classify are referred to the Compliance Panel out of session, and the Compliance Panel has 10 working days to determine whether the complaint is within scope, by majority decision.

Complaints outside the scope of the INC Code of Practice or the Code of Practice for Health Workers

For complaints that are outside of scope, the Ministry of Health will notify the complainant in writing. Where appropriate, the Ministry of Health will also notify the subject of the complaint that there has been a complaint against them, but it was considered outside of scope, so will not proceed through the complaints procedure on this occasion. However, the Director of Public Health may make recommendations to help ensure expectations for best practice against the INC Code of Practice or the Code of Practice for Health Workers are met. 

The Ministry of Health may refer complaints that are outside of scope, but relevant to the implementation and monitoring of the WHO International Code in New Zealand, to the Compliance Panel to seek comment or advice (although the complaint will not go through the complaints procedure).

The Ministry of Health will refer complaints about the advertising of formula for infants aged over 6 months to the Advertising Standards Authority, and complaints about the labelling, composition or quality of formula to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Stage 2: complainant and subject of the complaint correspond

If there is a possible breach of either Code, the infant formula company, and/or health worker, and/or other affected party, where indicated, is asked to respond to the complaint by the Ministry of Health.

The subject of the complaint has 20 working days to respond to the written complaint.

If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response, the complainant has 20 working days to request their complaint be referred to the Compliance Panel. If the complainant is satisfied with the response or decides not to pursue the complaint further, the complaint may still be referred to the Compliance Panel at the Ministry’s discretion, for any advice or comment the Compliance Panel may wish to provide the Ministry, but not for determination.

Stage 3: the complaint is referred to the Compliance Panel

The Compliance Panel considers the complaint at its next scheduled meeting. The complaint will be considered under the self-regulatory code that applied at the time the alleged breach occurred. Additional information may be sought before the Compliance Panel makes its decision. Once the Compliance Panel makes its decision, the Compliance Panel has 30 working days to finalise drafting of the decision. All affected parties are notified in writing, and any affected party has 20 working days to lodge a written appeal with the Ministry of Health.

First-time complaints about a health worker or a health worker’s organisation

If the Compliance Panel considers a first-time alleged breach by a health worker as deliberate, the Compliance Panel will consider the complaint and make a determination about the breach. If the alleged breach is not considered deliberate, the Compliance Panel will recommend appropriate educative action, but will not determine the complaint. The health worker will be advised that if they are the subject of further complaints referred to the Compliance Panel, a determination will be made.

Stage 4: the appeal

Grounds for the adjudicator for accepting an appeal is where it appears that the Compliance Panel, in making its decision:

  1. did not follow a fair process based on the principles of natural justice
  2. failed to take a relevant fact into consideration or took an irrelevant fact into account, or gave a relevant fact insufficient weight or
  3. did not properly apply the relevant codes in its decision.

If a written appeal is lodged with the Ministry of Health about a Compliance Panel decision, all affected parties are notified, and all relevant documentation to the Compliance Panel decision is sent to the Adjudicator. If new or additional information is provided to the adjudicator that has not been provided to the CP, the new information will be declined.  

The Adjudicator decides whether grounds for appeal are met and makes their decision in writing, within 30 working days of receipt of the complaint documentation. The Adjudicator may uphold, amend, or quash the CP decision. The Adjudicator may also refer the complaint back to the Compliance Panel for re-determination. All affected parties are notified of the Adjudicator’s decision and recommended action.

The Adjudicator’s decision is final, including the decision to refer the complaint back to the Compliance Panel for redetermination, so no further appeal can be lodged with the Ministry of Health by any party.

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