Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution by U.S. Stuns World Health Officials
A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was likely to be approved quickly as well as also also easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered that will spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.
Based on decades of research, the resolution says that will mother’s milk is actually healthiest for children as well as also also 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.
[Read more about how the Trump administraton’s stance conflicts with existing medical advice.]
American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that will called on governments to “protect, promote as well as also also support breast-feeding” as well as also also another passage that will called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that will many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.
When that will failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats as well as also also government officials who took part inside the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself inside the cross hairs.
The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would likely unleash punishing trade measures as well as also also withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.
The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants coming from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation coming from the United States.
Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, nevertheless at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa as well as also also Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials coming from Uruguay, Mexico as well as also also the United States.
“We were astonished, appalled as well as also also 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-doing body of the earth Health Organization, since the late 1980s.
“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the earth hostage as well as also also trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant as well as also also young child health,” she said.
inside the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. the idea was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — as well as also also the Americans did not threaten them.
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The State Department declined to respond to questions, saying the idea could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health as well as also also Human Services, the lead agency inside the effort to modify the resolution, explained the decision to contest the resolution’s wording nevertheless said H.H.S. was not involved in threatening Ecuador.
“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should hold the choice as well as also also access to alternatives for the health of their babies, as well as also also not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.
Although lobbyists coming from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that will they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is actually dominated by a handful of American as well as also also European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Over all, global sales are likely to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that will growth occurring in developing nations.
The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials as well as also also foreign diplomats, who described the idea 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 to the W.H.O., several negotiators said. Washington is actually 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 as well as also also environmental issues.
In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for language that will would likely limit the ability of Canada, Mexico as well as also also the United States to put warning labels on junk food as well as also also sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The completely new York Times.
[Read more about the Trump administration’s stance on junk food warning labels during Nafta talks.]
During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes coming from a document that will 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 inside the developing world, nevertheless health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.
The delegation’s actions in Geneva are in keeping with the tactics of an administration that will has been upending alliances as well as also also long-established practices across a range of multilateral organizations, coming from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal to Nafta.
Ilona Kickbusch, director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International as well as also also Development Studies in Geneva, said there was a growing fear that will the Trump administration could cause lasting damage to international health institutions like the W.H.O. that will have been vital in containing epidemics like Ebola as well as also also the rising death toll coming from diabetes as well as also also cardiovascular disease inside the developing world.
“the idea’s doing everyone very nervous, because if you can’t agree on health multilateralism, what kind of multilateralism can you agree on?” Ms. Kickbusch asked.
A Russian delegate said the decision to introduce the breast-feeding resolution was a matter of principle.
“We’re not trying to be a hero here, nevertheless we feel that will the idea is actually wrong when a big country tries to push around some very little countries, especially on an issue that will is actually truly important for the rest of the earth,” said the delegate, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He said the United States did not directly pressure Moscow to back away coming from the measure. Nevertheless, the American delegation sought to wear down the some other participants through procedural maneuvers in a series of meetings that will stretched on For 2 days, an unexpectedly long period.
inside 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 will called on the W.H.O. to provide technical support to member states seeking to halt “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants as well as also also young children.”
The United States also insisted that will the words “evidence-based” accompany references to long-established initiatives that will promote breast-feeding, which critics described as a ploy that will could be used to undermine programs that will provide parents with feeding advice as well as also also support.
Elisabeth Sterken, director of the Infant Feeding Action Coalition in Canada, said four decades of research have established the importance of breast milk, which provides essential nutrients as well as hormones as well as also also antibodies that will protect newborns against infectious disease.
A 2016 study inside the Lancet found that will universal breast-feeding would likely prevent 800,000 child deaths a year across the globe as well as also also yield $300 billion in savings coming from reduced health care costs as well as also also increased economic outcomes for those reared on breast milk.
Scientists are loath to carry out double-blind studies that will would likely provide one group with breast milk as well as also also another with breast milk substitutes. “that will kind of ‘evidence-based’ research would likely be ethically as well as also also morally unacceptable,” Ms. Sterken said.
Abbott Laboratories, the Chicago-based company that will is actually one of the biggest players inside the $70 billion baby food market, declined to comment.
Nestlé, the Switzerland-based food giant with significant operations inside the United States, sought to distance itself coming from the threats against Ecuador as well as also also said the company would likely continue to support the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes, which calls on governments to regulate the inappropriate promotion of such products as well as also also to encourage breast-feeding.
In addition to the trade threats, Todd C. Chapman, the United States ambassador to Ecuador, suggested in meetings with officials in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, that will the Trump administration might also retaliate by withdrawing the military assistance the idea has been providing in northern Ecuador, a region wracked by violence spilling across the border coming from Colombia, according to an Ecuadorean government official who took part inside the meeting.
The United States Embassy in Quito declined to make Mr. Chapman available for an interview.
“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a little matter like breast-feeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” said the Ecuadorean official, who asked not to be identified because she was afraid of losing her job.