Did The U.S. Threaten Ecuador Over A Breastfeeding Resolution?

Ric Francis via ZUMA

Ric Francis via ZUMA

Worldwide delegates to the United Nation's World Health Assembly looked on at the group's recent meeting, as US representatives appeared to put the interests of the $70 billion baby food industry ahead of those of parents and children-and pressured other countries to do the same. This is what triggered inquiries to the USA government to review the language.

Ecuador was set to introduce a resolution based on that research, but as more than a dozen worldwide representatives confirmed to the Times, American delegates threatened the smaller nation with cuts to military aid and reduced trade deals if they went forward with the proposal.

Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News.

But the popularity of breastfeeding can cut into sales of infant formula manufacturers, and companies who produce formula have a long history of interfering in global affairs to promote formula over breastfeeding at the expense of infant health. Among the myriad issues discussed at these annual meetings are policies and initiatives related to infant nutrition, breastfeeding, and breast milk substitutes, topics that gained prominence in the Assembly in the 1980s.

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Amongst other things, the resolution urges member states "to increase investment in development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies and programmes aimed at protection, promotion, including education and supportof breastfeeding" and "to end inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children". When breastfeeding mothers feed their babies exclusively with formula, they quickly stop producing breast milk, making it impossible to revert back. They also imply in their advertising that breastfeeding is what poor women do who don't know better. In defense of formula and its makers, the USA also reportedly threatened Ecuador with trade sanctions in retaliation for advancing the resolution.

USA officials made threats to Ecuador in an attempt to water down a resolution in support of breastfeeding, according to a report in The New York Times. Breastfeeding is critical for mothers here and in developing countries, where formula mixed with unclean water supplies can be unsafe for babies. Here, they reportedly hand out "infant nutrition" pamphlets to mothers, which appear to be medical advice but in fact recommend specific formula brands and sometimes have money-off coupons. "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". In war zones and during humanitarian crises, infant formula makes sense, said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an author and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in this piece.

The US directed its ire at Ecuador when the South American nation agreed to introduce the resolution.

Health advocates sought to find another sponsor for the resolution, the Times reported, and Russian Federation eventually introduced the measure without threats from the U.S. A 2016 study found that "the deaths of 823,000 children and 20,000 mothers each year could be averted through universal breastfeeding, along with economic savings of $300 billion [USD]". In a booklet published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2008, and still available online, government officials listed multiple benefits for employers that support breastfeeding mothers and their partners.

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