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Make Them Hear You: United States backs off W.H.O. Breast Feeding Resolution

In Make Them Hear You

This is Make Them Hear You with ideas of how you can have your voice heard before Congress. Amidst all the shocking headlines, a little-known battle between the Trump administration and the rest of the world has flown beneath the radar.

The United Nations-affiliated World Health Organization proposed a resolution to encourage breast-feeding. It was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered in Geneva.  Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

 

But no! The United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.  American officials sought to water down the resolution.

When that failed, they turned to threats. Ecuador had planned to introduce the measure, but were told if they did, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

Over a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, also backed off, citing fears of retaliation. American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution the World Health Organization.

The U.S. held the world hostage, trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant health. The Russians ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Trump administration did not threaten them.

A 2016 study in The Lancet found that universal breast-feeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year across the globe and yield $ 300 billion in savings from reduced health care costs and improved economic outcomes for those reared on breast milk.

Interestingly, health advocates in attendance said they saw no evidence that the infant formula lobbyists played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. Even  Nestlé Corporation, which has a terrible past record of promoting infant formulas to women in poor countries,  sought to distance itself from the threats against Ecuador, and said the company would continue to support the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. One person bitterly joked that Trump wanted all the breasts for himself.

Congress is hopelessly busy trying to deal with other Trump behaviors, so there is not an active bill before the House or Senate currently. But last fall, Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced S.Res.246  to designate the first week of August as World Breastfeeding Week and designates August as National Breastfeeding Month. The  resolution also expresses support for policies and funding to ensure that all mothers who choose to breastfeed can access a full range of support. If you have an opinion on the Trump Administration’s policies on breastfeeding, you can contact your Senators. This is Chris Mohr with Make Them Hear You.