Controversy flares over USA challenge to World Health Organization breastfeeding resolution

Henrietta Strickland
July 12, 2018

According to a Sunday New York Times scoop, the President Donald Trump's delegation to the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly recently bullied smaller, less wealthy nations in an ultimately failed effort to crush a resolution urging mothers to breastfeed infants.

Mr. Trump said the country "strongly supports" breastfeeding, but the issue the US representatives had was with denying access to formula.

A weekend report in The New York Times stated that U.S. delegates to a recent World Health Organization meeting sought to delete from a resolution on infant nutrition language that urged member states to "protect, promote and support" breastfeeding. The American delegation was fighting to include the interests of formula manufacturers, even going so far as to threaten normal trade with countries like Ecuador.

The resolution was eventually passed when Russian Federation sponsored another version that largely resisted USA demands. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants should be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months after birth. Critics of the breast milk substitute industry contend that those companies use aggressive and potentially illegal marketing tactics that encourage mothers to abandon breastfeeding in favor of commercial products.

The measure was expected to be introduced by Ecuador.

Ecuador's support for an global resolution backing breastfeeding has triggered United States threats of punitive trade measures and the axing of military aid.

The resolution was primarily meant to prevent dishonest or inaccurate marketing of baby formula, subsequently promoting breastfeeding as the healthiest choice for babies, Britain's Baby Milk Action Policy Director Patti Rundall said in an interview with NPR. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced. Women's health advocates, she said, have long promoted breastfeeding-and also supported women to choose the "option to do the best for them and their babies".

A State Department official said the USA believed "the resolution as originally drafted called on states to erect hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children". A recent report found more than 800 violations of the World Health Organization's guidelines for marketing breastmilk substitutes in 79 countries between 2014 and 2017.

Met with resistance from nations around the table, US delegates began threatening, according to other officials at the summit. The position of the U.S. is aligned with infant formula manufacturers (the USA dominates the $70 billion industry, which has been on the downturn in wealthier nations in the last few years as more women are breastfeeding), and, unsurprisingly, was a complete about-turn from the Obama administration. The editors then again accused the Trump administration of siding with "corporate interests". Of course, it is in line with the general attitude of the U.S., which has earlier opposed taxes on sugared drinks and attacked changes in licensing law proposed to deliver life-saving medicines in poor countries.

"They also had co-sponsored the original resolution so they were very supportive of the breastfeeding protection mechanisms in the resolution so we really have to commend them for that".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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