U.S. Delegates Opposed an International Resolution That Supported Breastfeeding

Phillip Cunningham
July 13, 2018

USA officials threatened Ecuador with punitive trade measures after the country introduced an worldwide resolution that encouraged breastfeeding during a global health conference, according to The New York Times.

The Times reported that the USA delegation threatened other nations, by suggesting that the US would implement trade measures with the goal of punishing them, citing more than a dozen participants from several of the countries present.

Officials from the US, Uruguay, and Mexico said that at least a dozen other countries-many of which are poor countries in Africa and Latin America-dropped the resolution after the US sucked away their interest. In the end, the Times said, the Russians stepped in to introduce the measure - and the final resolution preserved most of the original wording.

The resolution that was unanimously adopted by the World Health Assembly, and supported by the US delegation, clearly stated its aim to support, protect and promote breastfeeding and good nutrition for infants and young children based on effective, evidenced based interventions.

Additional coverage of the New York Times story is available from Axios, CNN, Forbes, The Hill, HuffPost, Newsweek, Slate, USA TODAY, and Vox. Taking a break from being an all-purpose bogeyman, Russia, we're told, saved the day and the United States was thwarted.

"We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons", it added, saying they should have "full information about safe alternatives". As more mothers are turning to breastfeeding, the industry has seen its sales dropping across wealthy countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies until they are six months old, and continuing partial breastfeeding for the first year.

The assault on the baby, the bathwater and everything else was so savage that the US Department of Health and Human Services, which had sought to edit down the resolution, clarified that it did not use threats. At the same Assembly, U.S. Representatives "succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity". These are situations during which it has been common to solicit formula donations for the affected countries, says Maaike Arts, an early childhood nutrition specialist with UNICEF. For one, they wrote, breastfeeding mothers miss work less often because breastfed infants are healthier, which government officials say also translates into lower health care costs.

"The formula industry is a multibillion-dollar industry", said Sullivan. They were the only country to vote against it in 1981.

While the US delegates largely went along with the crowd two years ago, they made sure the resolution was only "welcomed" at the World Health Assembly, as opposed to "endorsed".

Rafael Perez-Escamilla, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told NPR this is part of a larger trend in the current administration "to help maximize profits at the expense of public health". In war zones and during humanitarian crises, infant formula makes sense, said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an author and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in this piece.

UNICEF and World Health Organization also recommend exclusive breastfeeding from within an hour of birth until the baby is 6 months old.

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