Did The U.S. Threaten Ecuador Over A Breastfeeding Resolution?

Minnie Murray
July 11, 2018

United States delegates sought to weaken a World Health Assembly resolution encouraging breast-feeding this spring, the New York Times reported Sunday, backing the interests of infant-formula manufacturers instead.

The resolution said countries should limit the misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes, as a mother's breast milk has been shown to be the healthiest for children in decades of research.

"We all started talking about it at the conference", said Dr. Mitchell.

Which of course was not really what the debate was about - since formula is perfectly acceptable and mothers should indeed be able to make their own choice - but rather putting pen to paper on the scientifically-backed conclusion that breastmilk is more beneficial than formula.

'We were astonished, appalled and also saddened, ' said Patti Rundall, policy director of Baby Milk Action, a pro-breastfeeding advocacy group. The companies denied any wrongdoing.

Abbott Laboratories, the Chicago-based company that is one of the biggest players in the US$70 billion baby food market, declined to comment.

Then, when those attempts failed, the US delegation reportedly intimidated the country, Ecuador, initially sponsoring the resolution with trade threats, resulting in Ecuador dropping out. "It was Russian Federation that stepped in and introduced the resolution, but even then the USA went around the sort of procedural norms and introduced a competing resolution which required sort of a two-day meeting to hammer out the differences between the resolutions", Jacobs told NPR. Patti Rundall, who leads the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the Times, "What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the US holding the world hostage and trying to overturn almost 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health". "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore".

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defended the United States delegation's approach.

When this failed, the Times reported that USA delegates turned to threats.

The US eventually relented and the resolution passed largely in its original form.

"We recognise not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons".

The main concern isn't whether breastfeeding should be supplemented with formula, but what happens when formula becomes a substitute for breast milk entirely.

A 2011 surgeon general's report concluded that "breast milk is uniquely suited to the human infant's nutritional needs and is a live substance with unparalleled immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mothers and children". World Health Organization representatives when those initiatives were first introduced by a delegation from Ecuador, the New York Times reported on 8 July 2018.

The New York Times says the United States threatened Ecuador and other small countries with trade and military repercussions, but it provides no evidence to support the claim outside of anonymous sources. Universal adoption of breastfeeding in low- and middle-income countries could prevent the death of an estimated 823,000 children under two years old, according to a study by the Australian National University.

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