Infant formula milk is a $70 Billion industry based in USA and Europe. US officials warned Ecuador that “if Ecuador didn’t drop the proposal, “Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid.”
Image: James Estrin/The New York Times
Geneva: A host of countries had gathered for the World Health Organisations ‘World Health Assembly’ in Geneva to discuss policies and pass a resolution to promote breastfeeding and curtail harmful and unethical promotion of formula milk for babies. What seemed like a no-brainer for the health of infants around the globe, took an unexpected turn when the USA threatened Ecuador with sanctions if it supported the resolution.
Infant formula milk is a $70 Billion industry based in the USA and Europe. The New York Times article which blew the lid on this story said that officials warned the small South American country. “if Ecuador didn’t drop the proposal, “Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid,” the report said.
“The resolution ultimately made its way through, as a result of Russian intervention. “We feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world,” a Russian delegate told the Times. The US did not make the same threats to Russia as it had to Ecuador, and the resolution was passed mostly in its original form,” Vox reported.
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.”
“The Times spoke to more than a dozen participants at the Geneva meeting. A lot of them were afraid to be named on the record because they feared the US might retaliate, as it apparently had threatened to do with Ecuador,” the report said.
Donald Trump calls it 'Fake News'
President Trump tweeted that it is a "Fake News story" that "must be called out." A State Department official told NPR that "media reports suggesting the United States threatened a partner nation related to a World Health Assembly resolution are false." He had called a nursing mother ‘disgusting’ in 2015.
A case for Breast Milk
“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. American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children,” NYT reported.
“Breastmilk makes the world healthier, smarter, and more equal: these are the conclusions of a new Lancet Series on breastfeeding. The deaths of 823 000 children and 20 000 mothers each year could be averted through universal breastfeeding, along with economic savings of US$300 billion,” The Lancet Journal had reported in 2016.
The US historically supports corporations over human health
It is not the first time that the US Govt has tried to interfere with health care measures in the favour of human health and well-being. It has a consistent track record of choosing corporations and profits over the health of people across the world.
“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,” NYT reported. It had also tried to stop a WHO effort for poor countries trying to access lifesaving medicine.
A Guardian investigation found that American companies were aggressively targeting developing countries at the cost of infant health. “A Guardian/Save the Children investigation in some of the most deprived areas of the Philippines found that Nestlé and three other companies were offering doctors, midwives and local health workers free trips to lavish conferences, meals, tickets to shows and the cinema and even gambling chips, earning their loyalty. This is a clear violation of Philippine law,” the report by Guardian said.
"The Save the Children report shows how global pro-formula campaigning is. In Mexico, where just 31% of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, 50% of mothers said they had been recommended formula by their doctor, while in Chile, 75% of doctors, nurses and midwives in hospitals reported visits from formula representatives,” the report added.
An archived report from the NYT magazine shows how the US has tried and succeeded at thwarting breastfeeding promotion and supported infant formula since the 1950’s.
The New York Magazine detailed how American presidents have regularly interfered or slapped draconian sanctions on poor countries. “The Obama administration has [also] spent over a year pressuring the Indian government to abandon its policy of providing a less expensive generic version of a new cancer drug. India, which features a per capita income of about $1,400 a year, is not considered a least developed country, but rather a “lower-middle-income country” and, as such, is required to comply with WTO treaties,” the article said.