The US continues to be a jerk, opposes move to encourage breastfeeding

Today comes news about how the US has attempted to thwart moves to encourage breastfeeding of children around the world. The benefits of breastfeeding are so obvious and well established that pretty much everyone expected this to be a no-brainer that would pass easily. But they did not anticipate that the US does not behave like a civilized nation.

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

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.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

First the US tried to water down the resolution but when that failed, they resorted to outright threats of retaliation against any nation that sponsored the resolution. Those threats resulted in the original sponsor Ecuador withdrawing and at least another dozen countries, most of them developing nations in Africa and Latin America, also declined for fear of retaliation.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

During the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution the W.H.O., several negotiators said. Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organization, providing $845 million, or roughly 15 percent of its budget, last year.

The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.

Ultimately Russia sponsored the resolution and the US did not threaten it, because the US is a classic bully that only punches down.

[A Russian delegate] said the United States did not directly pressure Moscow to back away from the measure. Nevertheless, the American delegation sought to wear down the other participants through procedural maneuvers in a series of meetings that stretched on for two days, an unexpectedly long period.

In the end, the United States was largely unsuccessful. The final resolution preserved most of the original wording, though American negotiators did get language removed that called on the W.H.O. to provide technical support to member states seeking to halt “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.”

That was not the only jerk move the US made at the meeting.

During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.

The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.

So why does the US act this way? Because US policy is made by business lobbyists who put their profits first and the US government is only happy to oblige them.

I am not one who signs on to all boycotts of companies. But I have long tried to avoid any product made by Nestle, which I consider to be one of the most evil companies. This was because of their despicable marketing practices in Africa and Asia where they put on big advertising campaigns that encouraged poor women to use formula instead of breast milk, promoting it as a better and more sophisticated way of feeding children. But since infant formula is expensive, mothers ended up diluting it, leaving their infants malnourished. Furthermore, the lack of access to clean water to make the formula resulted in all manner of diseases being transmitted to children. The amount of misery and the number of deaths caused by Nestle’s greed is immeasurable. Nestle is a truly unethical company. It would not surprise me in the least of they were one of the prime forces behind that US’s opposition to this proposal.


  1. Owlmirror says

    Because US policy is made by business lobbyists who put their profits first and the US government is only happy to oblige them.

    Yet Obama was willing to buck the business lobbyists in this matter, as little as that may have been. I suspect that he was at least willing to listen to medical experts on the topic of breastfeeding, and accepted their recommendations.

    One of the hallmarks of Trumpism is the deep contempt for scientific and medical expertise. Trump himself seems to think that a “good” doctor as being one who will take dictation from Trump about how awesomely healthy Trump is.

  2. Matt G says

    I remember the Nestle boycott from when I was a kid in the early 80s. Business always comes first among those in the “pro-life” camp.

  3. jrkrideau says

    But they did not anticipate that the US does not behave like a civilized nation.
    I can understand their surprise but the USA seems to have left the ranks of civilized nations some time ago. It is just taking time for everyone to realize it. It is amazing how easy it seems to be to buy the Trump régime.

    I get the feeling there was a sense of slightly stunned disbelief in the Russian delegation. A sort of “we are happy to do it but why did we have to in the first place?”

    The weird thing is that apparently the USA thought they really could kill the resolution. They were correct in thinking that they could bully a lot of poorer small nations but did not anyone notice that there was a bloody huge bear in the room whom the USA could not threaten?

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Owlmirror
    One of the hallmarks of Trumpism is the deep contempt for scientific and medical expertise.
    We went through 10 years of that in Canada under the Harper Gov’t. Gut reations and crazy religious beliefs were more valuable inputs to policy development, scientists muzzled, long term research programs abandoned and so on. At one point Health Canada staff were stealing journals, etc., and hiding them in their basements.

    It looks like it is going to be far worse in the USA. The last I heard CDC is facing significant funding cuts and the EPA is likely in worse trouble since Pruitt resigned. The thing is that the Trumpites must ignore scientific and medical expertise otherwise they would have to admit that many (all?) of their policies and programs are nonsense.

  5. Dr Sarah says

    WMDKitty, this is a hugely significant problem in the developed world, and I agree it’s appalling. But there are a lot of countries where it’s still really dangerous to feed babies anything made with the local water, and where large numbers of people can’t afford enough formula to feed babies, not to mention women not having access to proper contraceptives and often having to rely on breastfeeding just to space their children. Obviously it’s vital to be addressing all those issues vigorously, but for women having babies in the developing world today, the situation they’ve got now is the situation they’ve got now, not the situation we’re aiming for them to have ASAP in the future, and in those circumstances it *is* a terrible idea for formula companies to be pushing formula.

  6. deepak shetty says

    Atleast in the hospital we were (in the US), everyone sang the praises of breast milk and I believe the hospital is not supposed to offer formula unless medically necessary OR the parents ask for it so it looks hypocritical for the US to not agree (though I dont know if this is specific to California or a US policy)

    @WMDKitty — Survivor
    You bring up an important and complicated issue . Its undeniable that breast milk is better and its also undeniable that a new baby is hell on the mother and that breast feeding is goddamn hard and thats on top of the hormonal changes and the sleepless nights. I guess the only thing that helps is good support from the family but in many cases the partners are also irritable and short tempered (lack of sleep does that!) .

  7. says

    Listening to an NPR interview with Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, yesterday, I got more than a little confused with this bit:

    …it’s all about trading and trading goods that really are misleadingly marketed. So they’re marketed almost as if they are infant formula for babies, [emphasis mine, JH] which is important and is something good. These are look-alike products that are not correct for babies, and they’re fueling the obesity epidemic (ph) and undermining breastfeeding.

    So, this isn’t about baby formula but rather a product “marketed almost as if they are infant formula for babies?”

    What are these “look-alike” products she’s talking about?

    Also, First Dog On The Moon.

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