World Health Officials Stunned by US Opposition and Threats Over Breastfeeding Resolution

By M. Russo — Published July 09, 2018

World Health Officials Stunned by US Opposition and Threats Over Breastfeeding Resolution

World Health officials were shocked by the United States opposing a World Health Assembly resolution to support breastfeeding.  Decades of research has shown that breast milk is the healthiest option for children, with numerous benefits for infants such as fewer respiratory illnesses, lower risk for allergies and asthma, higher IQ scores, and more. Additionally, breast milk provides an ideal nutrition composition for infants and is more easily digested than formula.

The resolution, which would encourage breastfeeding, was expected to be approved quickly and easily. Instead, the United States sought to remove language that they felt would be deleterious to infant formula manufacturers, such as the recommendation that governments "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" and for policymakers to restrict the "inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children" that have been shown to have detrimental effects on children.

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When this proved unsuccessful, the US took to threatening those countries who wanted to sign on to the resolution. When Ecuador said they would introduce the measure, they were told that "Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid." More than a dozen participants from different countries recounted this turn of events, many of whom requested anonymity due to fear of US retaliation. "What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the US holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health," said Patti Rundall, policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action.

At least 12 other countries, mostly poor African and Latin American nations, refused to sponsor the bill, explicitly citing fear of retaliation. Eventually, Russia stepped in and said they would introduce the measure. The United States did not threaten Russia.

The $70 billion infant formula industry is primarily based in the US and Europe. The US has had other instances of prioritizing business over health during the same meeting in Geneva. They got statements supporting soda taxes removed from an obesity document. They also attempted to kill a World Health Organization effort to help poor countries access life-saving medicine. The president himself has called breastfeeding "disgusting" and refused an attorney's request for a break to pump breast milk for her three-month-old daughter at a 2011 deposition. Global sales of infant formula are expected to rise by 4% in 2018.

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