When global health officials gathered this spring for the World Health Assembly, they thought a resolution that would encourage breast-feeding would be one of the easiest items on their agenda. After all, its purpose was simple enough: recognizing decades of research that says breast milk is healthiest for babies and calling on countries should limit misleading marketing claims that state otherwise. But then the U.S. delegation got involved, and didn’t just oppose the resolution but began threatening countries that wanted to introduce the measure, reveals the New York Times.
The U.S. officials wanted delegates at the U.N.-affiliated World Health Assembly to tone down the resolution in what looked like an effort to side with manufacturers of infant formula. Specifically, they wanted the document to not include language that would call on countries to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding” while also slashing calls to restrict marketing of food products that are seen as detrimental for young children.
Ecuador had planned to introduce the measure but after threats of economic retaliation it decided to drop the initiative. Advocates then began searching for another sponsor “but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation,” reports the New York Times. Russia then took up the issue and decided to introduce the resolution. The American officials did not threaten Russia.
“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action. “What happened was tantamount to blackmail.” The Department of Health and Human Services defended the opposition to the resolution saying that it “placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children.”