Trump says USA had opposed formula limits, not breastfeeding

Ric Francis via ZUMA

Ric Francis via ZUMA

Met with resistance from nations around the table, USA delegates began threatening, according to other officials at the summit.

The Times reported Sunday that USA officials turned to threats in an effort to throw cold water on a WHA resolution holding that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for young children and pushes countries to limit the spread of inaccurate information about breast milk substitutes. "What happened was tantamount to blackmail", she said.

What WHO and UNICEF should do now, after decades of modestly successful efforts to curb the risky use of baby formula, is to push for a global treaty: a Framework Convention on Formula Control modeled on WHO's successful Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The State Department declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency involved in modifying the resolution, told The Times the agency wasn't involved in the threatening of other countries.

"Representatives from Nestlé, Abbott, Mead Johnson, and Wyeth (now owned by Nestlé) were described as a constant presence in hospitals in the Philippines, where only 34 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed in the first six months", the investigation found.

The final resolution largely reflected the original wording. "They should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies".

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The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

It remains puzzling as to why the liberal media blame USA protections of formula companies, as even The Times had to note: "Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington's strong-arm tactics".

The resolution also called on world governments to crack down on marketing which says that substitute baby formulas are better and to 'protect, promote, and support breastfeeding'. The newspaper said that "the Americans did not threaten them". Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organisation, providing US$845 million, or roughly 15 per cent of its budget, last year. The editors then again accused the Trump administration of siding with "corporate interests".

"Malnutrition and poverty are the precise settings where you absolutely do need to breastfeed, because that's the setting where access to safe and clean water for reconstituting powdered formula is often impossible to find", Dr. Michele Barry, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health in the Stanford School of Medicine, told The New York Times in response to Trump's tweet.

During the same Geneva meeting where the breastfeeding 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.

Russian Federation ultimately sponsored the resolution and the American delegation did not issue any threats to the country.

The delegation's actions in Geneva are in keeping with the tactics of an administration that has been upending alliances and long-established practices across a range of multilateral organisations, from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal to NAFTA.

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Hundreds of government delegates at the assembly expected the resolution to be approved swiftly.

Officials at the assembly this spring were shocked by the Trump administration's reaction to the resolution and support for infant formula manufacturers, but perhaps they shouldn't have been.

The United States once again complicated efforts to pass a United Nations-affiliated resolution, this time one encouraging breast-feeding, drafted by the World Health Assembly.

The Times said more than a dozen participants from different countries at the assembly confirmed the "showdown over the issue".

The United States tried to halt the resolution by pressuring Ecuador, which initially sponsored it, by dropping out. At first, the USA delegates attempted to simply dilute the pro-breastmilk message, voiding language that called for governments to "protect, promote, and support breastfeeding" and limit promotion of competing baby food products that experts warn can be harmful.

Research has shown that mother's milk contains far more nutrients that are necessary for a baby's health than infant formula.

A 2016 study published by The Lancet says breastfeeding could save the lives of 823,000 children and 20,000 mothers each year.

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A common argument promoted by the breast milk substitute industry frames the issue as one of access and choice.

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