Breast isn’t best, according to Trump administration officials who attended the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly, where they attempted to torpedo a resolution designed to encourage breastfeeding, The New York Times reports.
The resolution, introduced by Ecuador in May at the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding”—which has long been the W.H.O.’s policy. Objecting to that language, U.S. officials indicated possible repercussions if the resolution wasn’t dropped and engaged in a tit-for-tat measure with Ecuador. According to government officials, the country would be the recipient of “punishing trade measures” and the U.S. could withdraw military aid in the tumultuous northern region.
“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the New York Times. “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,” she said.
However, members of the Trump administration have pushed back against the report. According to CNN, Health and Human Services spokesperson Caitlin Oakley issued a statement in response to the report touting American officials’ longtime support of breastfeeding. “The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding,” Oakley said. “The United States was fighting to protect women’s abilities to make the best choices for the nutrition of their babies. Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies.”
Why might officials object to language promoting mother’s milk? Well, consider infant formula manufacturers—no surprise that lobbyists also attended the assembly — and the $70 billion baby food industry. Meanwhile, forty years of research has shown that antibodies in breast milk can help protect newborns, and a 2016 study showed that “universal breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year across the globe and yield $300 billion in savings.”
Leading the charge to modify the resolution was the Department of Health and Human Services, and a spokesman claimed the tweaks were sought because “the resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children.” The statement further read: “We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed 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.”
Public health officials and foreign diplomats were said to be “stunned” over U.S. aversion to the policy.
Of course, the administration didn’t limit flexing its muscle over breast-feeding. At the Geneva meeting, officials also successfully lobbied against language praising soda taxes in a document advising countries with rising obesity rates.
Ironically, after Ecuador dropped the resolution, it was reintroduced and successfully passed. Who brought it back to the table? Russia. “We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world,” an unidentified delegate told the Times. You don’t say.
Read the full story at The New York Times.