Questions and answers about the WHO Code in New Zealand

What is the WHO Code in New Zealand?

New Zealand adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code in 1983 and established an implementation and monitoring process relevant to New Zealand legislative and policy context in 1997. This is referred to as the WHO Code in New Zealand. New Zealand has implemented the WHO International Code under four codes:

The Ministry of Health is currently responsible for monitoring the Health Workers’ Code and the INC Code of Practice.

What does the WHO Code in New Zealand mean for breastfeeding?

The WHO Code in New Zealand is an important part of creating an overall environment that protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding. It means that whānau are given information to make an informed choice about feeding their infant, with appropriate advice and support. It also means that infant formula should not be marketed in New Zealand. In addition, toddler milk/follow-on formula should not be marketed in a way that undermines breastfeeding. Whānau are enabled to make the best possible feeding choice, based on impartial information and free of commercial influences, and to be fully supported in doing so.

Why is the WHO Code in New Zealand so important?

Improper marketing and promotion of food products that compete with breastfeeding are important factors that often negatively affect the choice and ability of a mother to breastfeed her infant optimally. Given the vulnerability of infants and the risks involved in inappropriate feeding practices, usual marketing practices are therefore unsuitable for these products.

Is it a legal requirement to comply with the WHO Code in New Zealand? 

The New Zealand Government directed that the WHO International Code was to be implemented and monitored through consensus and discussion, not through legislation. The Health Workers’ Code, the INC Code of Practice (PDF, 282 KB) and the Advertising Standards Code are:

  • voluntary: the people and organisations subject to the Codes are not legally required to comply with them, but each code is a standard for practice, and
  • self-regulatory: health workers, INC member companies and the Advertising Standards Authority should manage their compliance processes to comply with their codes of practice.

The Food Standards Code is mandatory.

How long has the International Code been in place in New Zealand?

New Zealand adopted the International Code in 1983. A voluntary, self-regulatory implementation and monitoring process was set up in 1997.

Who monitors the WHO Code in New Zealand?

Te Whatu Ora Health NZ monitors compliance with the Health Workers’ Code and the INC Code of Practice (PDF, 282 KB). It 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 a natural justice process, it will be submitted to a Compliance Panel for a decision. There is an appeal process, and an independent adjudicator, for complaints unresolved by the Compliance Panel.

The Advertising Standards Complaints Board is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Advertising Standards Code.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is responsible for administering and monitoring compliance with the Food Standards Code.

Are all manufacturers and importers of infant formula members of the INC?

Some infant formula companies manufacturing and selling infant formula in New Zealand Aotearoa are not members of the INC. They are not party to the INC Code of Practice (PDF, 282 KB).

What does the Health Workers’ Code mean for health workers?

The Health Workers’ Code aims to ensure that health workers:

  • protect, promote and support breastfeeding
  • give clear, consistent and accurate information about the importance of breastfeeding and the health consequence of not breastfeeding
  • meet their obligation to give detailed information and advice to parents, caregivers and families of breastfed and formula-fed infants on infant feeding
  • have adequate guidance on how to create a breastfeeding friendly environments.
Who can make a complaint?

Anyone can make a complaint under any of the Health Workers’ Code, the INC Code of Practice (PDF, 282 KB), the Food Standards Code or the Advertising Standards Code.


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