U.S. Stirs Up Global Controversy By Opposing A Very Simple Idea

Delegates from dozens of nations gathered earlier this spring in Geneva, Switzerland for the World Health Assembly, a United Nations-affiliated summit on health advocacy.

The purpose of the event is to discuss and pass global health resolutions meant to benefit the world’s citizens, but the ulterior motives of these nations often rear their head.

And in a shocking turn of events at this year’s Assembly, the United States’ delegation interrupted the deliberations for a startling reason.

A resolution to encourage breastfeeding to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” was on the table and was expected to be easily approved by the hundreds of nations’ government representatives in attendance.

The resolution was backed by countless bodies of research that prove that breast milk is the most nutritious and least expensive way for mothers to feed their babies.

This message is especially important to spread in impoverished countries where it is already difficult for many families to feed their children, encouraging the availability of proper nutrition and support for nursing mothers.

No one expected any opposition to such an obviously necessary resolution – one of the few issues that should have no political implications or financial benefit to member nations and should have been non-controversial.

But then, completely unexpectedly, the delegates of the United States stated their opposition to the resolution.

U.S. delegates demanded removal of the language that called for “protection and promotion” of breastfeeding.  Why?  Because they wanted to protect the financial interests of companies that produce infant formula instead of advocating for a natural means for women to feed their children.

Infant formula companies are by far located in the U.S. and Europe, in a thriving corporate industry that rakes in over 70 billion dollars a year.

When delegates from other nations opposed the U.S.’s changes to the language of the resolution, U.S. officials began to threaten sanctions on trade and withdrawal of military aid.

Since the nation of Ecuador had planned to sponsor the resolution in the first place, their delegation became the first target – and they quickly abandoned their sponsorship.

This left Assembly nations working to find another sponsor, but none would take on the task citing fear of retaliation by the U.S. government based on the threats made to Ecuador.

The New York Times reported:

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly.

“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.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tried to defend the actions of the U.S. delegation, saying the issues were not about supporting breastfeeding on a global scale.

Instead, she said that women may be “stigmatized” by the resolution if they were unable to breastfeed due to health issues or failure of the baby to thrive on nursing alone.  She referenced the need for these women to have access to alternate means of infant feeding – for example, baby formula.

In the end, the resolution was introduced by the Russian delegation, and U.S. officials did not restate their opposition nor threaten the nation.

The resolution contained most of the original language, with the exception of a phrase pertaining to the World Health Organization ending the promotion of alternative foods for infants and toddlers.

In other words, the U.S. did not want the language included that would negatively affect promotion of infant formulas as an alternative to breastfeeding.

President Trump took to Twitter to defend the actions of the U.S. delegations saying,

The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty,” and also that the original New York Times story was “fake news.”

While it is true that some women in impoverished nations are too malnourished to produce enough milk to feed their infants, the purpose of the resolution was to bring more attention to the issue and examine ways to support improving the health of moms who wanted to breastfeed.

And while agencies of the United Nations, like the World Health Organization, promote liberally-biased policies, this resolution to promote breastfeeding on a global scale was not one of them.

Delegates from other nations refrained from comment, but it is safe to say that corporate America played a major role in the incident in trying to protect its interests.

After all, there is a lot of money at stake for U.S. baby food and formula companies if women are encouraged to focus on exclusively breastfeeding their infants.

What do you think of the U.S. delegation’s demands at the World Health Assembly?  Do you think they were defending corporate America or, as they claim, just offering an option for women who are not able to breastfeed?  Leave us your thoughts.

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