Recent moves by the World Health Organisation to encourage breastfeeding across the globe were reportedly blocked by the United States of America. Drawing on decades of research showing that mother’s milk is the healthiest for children the resolution ran into trouble when the US, apparently responding to the financial interests of infant formula manufacturers, objected.
According to the New York Times, American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” 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.
Sustain has previously flagged the risks to child health in the UK from a US trade deal and found evidence of US aggression in trade talks towards countries that try to set their own regulations to reduce sugar consumption, limit junk food advertising or introduce additional food labelling measures. The NYT is reporting that it was Ecuador that tried to introduce this breast feeding motion and that in response the US threatened them with ‘punishing’ trade terms and a withdrawal of military support.
“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action (a member of Sustain), who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.
“What happened was 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,” she said.
The resolution was eventually passed after it was re-introduced by the Russian delegation.
At the same meeting, the US apparently also succeeded in removing statements supporting taxes on sugary drinks from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.
The Guardian noted that the milk formula industry has been struggling against stagnating sales in recent years, but is still worth $70bn annually. The small number of companies that produce it are concentrated in the US and Europe. The paper also pointed out that one of them, Abbott Nutrition, is part of the healthcare multinational Abbott Laboratories that contributed to Trump’s inauguration ceremonies in January 2017.
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