A shocking new report in the New York Times suggests the United States government tried to defeat a resolution by the World Health Organization in Geneva to encourage breastfeeding around the world. The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, the Times reported.
Officials from the United States initially sought to remove “language that called on governments to ‘protect, promote and support breast-feeding'” and wanted to remove a passage calling for the restriction of “the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.”
The report suggests the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers when they told representatives from Ecuador (the country that planned to introduce the resolution) to drop it or face “punishing trade measures” and the removal of military aid from America.
Fear of retaliation kept many countries (most poor nations in Africa and Latin America) from sponsoring the resolution when Ecuador dropped it. Eventually, Russia took on the task and was not threatened by U.S. officials, according to the Times.
An Ecuadorian official said “We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breastfeeding could provoke such a dramatic response.”
Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, called the actions of the American delegation “tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on [the] best way to protect infant and young child health.”
Back in the 1970s, the Swiss giant Nestle was accused of getting third world mothers hooked on their infant formula, which is less healthy and more expensive than breast milk. The allegations led to hearings in the Senate and the World Health Organization, resulting in a new set of marketing rules.
In poverty-stricken cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America, “babies are dying because their mothers bottle feed them with Western-style infant milk,” alleged War on Want. Besides handing out pamphlets and samples to new mothers, companies hired “‘sales girls in nurses’ uniforms (sometimes qualified, sometimes not)” to drop by their homes unannounced and sell them on baby formula, said War on Want.
Nestlé sued a German translator of War on Want’s exposé, which published it with the title, “Nestlé Kills Babies.”
In February 2018, Nestlé was accused by the UK-based Changing Markets Foundation of selling “substandard” products in South Africa. The researchers investigated more than 70 Nestlé infant milk formulas. It was also accused of promoting misleading claims to Hong Kong consumers. Nestlé marketed its infant milk formulas as “closest to”, “inspired by” and “following the example of” human breast milk in several countries, despite a prohibition by the UN’s World Health Organisation.