Donald Trump defends United States position on baby formula

Elias Hubbard
July 10, 2018

The Times reported yesterday that the U.S. At first, the U.S. delegates attempted to simply dilute the pro-breastmilk message, voiding language that called for governments to "protect, promote, and support breastfeeding" and limit promotion of competing baby food products that experts warn can be harmful.

When the Trump administration failed to convince member states to water down the language about breastfeeding and formulas, it resorted to threats, according to The New York Times.

According to The Times, U.S. officials threatened harmful trade practices against Ecuador, who planned to introduce the initiative, unless they withdrew it.

In addition to the trade threats, an Ecuadorean government official told the Times the US threatened to withdrawal military support from northern Ecuador, where violence from boarding Colombia causes ongoing issues. The Ecuadorian delegates acquiesced, and health advocates struggled to find another sponsor for the resolution.

The Times says it spoke with more than a dozen participants at the assembly from several countries.

Ecuador was set to introduce a resolution based on that research, but as more than a dozen worldwide representatives confirmed to the Times, American delegates threatened the smaller nation with cuts to military aid and reduced trade deals if they went forward with the proposal.

"We were astonished, appalled and also saddened", said Patti Rundall, policy director of the British advocacy organization Baby Milk Action.

"The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding", she said. "What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the United States holding the world hostage and trying to overturn almost 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health".

In the end, the Americans' efforts were mostly unsuccessful.

The State Department declined to respond to questions, saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations.

In the end, the US's effort to dash the World Health Organization resolution encouraging breastfeeding was largely unsuccessful. The WHO has long said that breastfeeding is the optimal feeding method for infants and recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child's life and continued feeding with introduction of other foods up to two years of age.

'The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children, ' an H.H.S. spokesman said.

'We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons.

While not all women are able to or choose to breastfeed, decades of research have shown that breastfeeding carries health benefits for babies and mothers, as well as saving money for families. The strong-arm tactics worked, and Ecuador dropped its support of the resolution. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty, ' he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

American officials only agreed to the resolution in Geneva when Russian Federation threw its support behind the resolution.

During the discussions, USA delegates even threatened to cut aid to WHO.

Trump administration officials have a history of breaking with scientific consensus on the world stage.

The United States pressured other countries to stop a resolution that promoted breastfeeding at the United Nations, according to the New York Times. Formula makers have turned their attention to marketing their products in developing countries in recent years, as breastfeeding has grown more popular in wealthy nations.

Hundreds of government delegates had gathered at the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly in Geneva in May.

Ilona Kickbusch, director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of worldwide and Development Studies in Geneva, said there was a growing fear that the Trump administration could cause lasting damage to worldwide health institutions like the WHO that have been vital in containing epidemics like Ebola and the rising death toll from diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the developing world.

"It's making everyone very nervous, because if you can't agree on health multilateralism, what kind of multilateralism can you agree on?"

According to the report, the delegation fought against elements in the resolution that would have demanded member states "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" and restrict potentially risky infant foods. A 2016 study found that "the deaths of 823,000 children and 20,000 mothers each year could be averted through universal breastfeeding, along with economic savings of $300 billion [USD]".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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