Trump administration threatened tiny nation over breastfeeding

Ric Francis via ZUMA

US President Donald Trump has defended US efforts to reportedly undermine a World Health Organization (WHO) measure in support of breastfeeding.

The U.S. threatened to withdraw military aid and engage in punitive trade tactics with Ecuador after it introduced the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly, the Times reported.

'The failing NY Times Fake News story today about breast feeding must be called out.

The US$70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of US and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breastfeeding.

Earlier this year, countries sent diplomats to Geneva for a meeting of the World Health Organization, the UN-affiliated organization.

At the conference, Ecuador sponsored a proposal that recognized mother's milk as the healthiest option for nursing newborns.

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An Ecuadorian official added, "We were shocked because we didn't understand how such a small matter like breastfeeding could provoke such a dramatic response".

The Times reported that the United States delegation embraced the interests of infant-formula manufacturers.

American officials told Ecuador - which was planning to adopt the measure - that if it didn't drop it, Washington would rope it into the trade war and cut back on military aid.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, a lot of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

Patti Randall - who, as policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, has attended meetings of the assembly - said the group was "astonished", "appalled" and "saddened" by the behavior of the US delegates.

Somehow things escalated from there into the USA threatening Ecuador--the nation that was introducing the resolution--with "punishing trade measures". They reportedly told Ecuador, who planned to introduce the resolution, that if it didn't drop the proposal, the US would punish the nation with trade measures. The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in the effort to modify the resolution, explained the decision to contest the resolution's wording but said HHS was not involved in threatening Ecuador.

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'The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children, ' an H.H.S. spokesman said.

But the popularity of breastfeeding can cut into sales of infant formula manufacturers, and companies who produce formula have a long history of interfering in worldwide affairs to promote formula over breastfeeding at the expense of infant health.

"We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so".

The US State Department has refused to comment on the report.

Research has shown that mother's milk contains far more nutrients that are necessary for a baby's health than infant formula. The WHO has long said that breastfeeding is the optimal feeding method for infants and recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child's life and continued feeding with introduction of other foods up to two years of age.

Companies that sell baby formula generate $70billion annually, but those sales have been stagnant due to the increased popularity of breastfeeding.

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