The Trump Administration is under fire for trying to bully other nations into voting against an international resolution in favor of breastfeeding over formula milk for infants.
As reported by the New York Times, a delegation from the US at the World Health Assembly in May in Geneva used underhand tactics including threats to try and sway the resolution. This included threatening one country, Ecuador, with removing military help against gangs and altering trade deals.
“The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid,” said the NYT. “The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.”
The issue stemmed around the wording of a new resolution that sought to promote breastfeeding. Four decades of research have shown that breast milk is more beneficial for infants that formula. This includes providing essential nutrients, hormones, and antibodies to protect against disease.
But the Americans were adamant the resolution should be less forceful. One section called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding,” which they wanted taking out. They also wanted the lessening of restrictions on the promotion of potentially harmful food products.
The move was described as “stunning and shameful” by the online group Moms Rising, noted The Guardian, while Lucy Sullivan – from the group 1,000 Days, which promotes nutrition for babies and infants – said on Twitter the issue could be described as “public health versus private profit”.
In a statement sent to the NYT, the Department of Health and Human Services said the resolution “placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children.” It added that “not all women are able to breastfeed,” and they “should have the choice and access to alternatives.”
Which of course was not really what the debate was about – since formula is perfectly acceptable and mothers should indeed be able to make their own choice – but rather putting pen to paper on the scientifically-backed conclusion that breastmilk is more beneficial than formula. The position of the US is aligned with infant formula manufacturers (the US 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 efforts of the US were ultimately unsuccessful, as Russia introduced the resolution. Some language was still changed however, including removing "inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children" and adding “evidence-based” to some statements.
Mostly experts just seemed to be shocked by the whole thing, though. Following the withdrawal from the Paris climate deal and Iran nuclear agreement, it’s another example of how anti-science and “anti-establishment” the Trump administration seeks to be at every turn, whatever the cost. Even on something as easily defendable as the health of infants.