The US sided with formula makers in opposing a breastfeeding resolution at a WHO assembly this spring
This past spring in Geneva at a United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly, the United States made considerable efforts to water down a resolution regarding breastfeeding and the misleading promotion of infant formula. The resolution was expected to pass easily but it appears the U.S. delegation instead acted on the interests of formula manufacturers instead of moms and babies.
The New York Times broke the news yesterday of the U.S. and their attempts to threaten other nations that supported the breastfeeding resolution. The delegation worked hard to remove wording that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and also, called on them to restrict promoting “food products” that may have ill effects on kids. The proposed resolution was based on years of research and was meant to promote the fact that breastmilk is healthiest for babies and that nations should do all they can to limit misleading advertising and promotion of infant formula to moms.
When their tries at changing the wording of the resolution failed, the U.S. delegation’s next step was to threaten countries that took part in the discussions to pass the resolution. This included, specifically, threats of retribution on trade and withdrawing military aid to Ecuador to get them to drop their support. That move meant other nations backing away from supporting the resolution out of fear of the same fate. In fact, the paper reports that more than a dozen participants recounted the showdown with Ecuador but largely requested to remain unnamed out of fear of retribution from the U.S.
Patti Rundall, policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, was shocked by the U.S. delegation’s behavior. “We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” she says. “What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health.”
The Times reports that Russia ultimately introduced the resolution but not before the U.S. was successful in striking language calling for the WHO to provide “technical support” to any nation making efforts to stop the “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.” The delegation was also able to add the phrase “evidence based” to some provisions of the resolution.
As explanation for their actions, in an email, an H.H.S. spokesman said, “The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” they write. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.”
They should also have all the information, particularly when it’s coming from the World Health Organization and based on decades of research. The health of a mother and her baby should always come before other interests, and the actions of the U.S. delegation are just one more disturbing instance of combative behavior on the world stage in the time of Trump.