After critics charged that US delegates threatened Ecuador to prevent a World Health Organization resolution supporting breastfeeding, President Trump and administration officials say the U.S. supports breastfeeding.
The New York Times reported July 8 that during a WHO meeting in May, American officials threatened Ecuador with sanctions if it would not withdraw its sponsorship for a resolution in support of breastfeeding. US officials say the matter is more complicated.
The resolution was primarily meant to prevent dishonest or inaccurate marketing of baby formula, subsequently promoting breastfeeding as the healthiest choice for babies, Britain’s Baby Milk Action Policy Director Patti Rundall said in an interview with NPR.
Rundell said the resolution was “all about trading, and trading goods that really are misleadingly marketed.”
The resolution, sponsored by the Ecuador, encouraged governments to oppose marketing that claims baby formula is better for babies than breastfeeding.
But an HHS spokeswoman said that “the resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,”
Caitlin Oakley, a spokesperson for the US Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that “"The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding.”
"The United States was fighting to protect women's abilities to make the best choices for the nutrition of their babies.
"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatised; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies."
The New York Times reported that the US attempted to “water down” the wording of the resolution, focusing on two passages, the article said: one requiring that countries “‘protect, promote and support breast-feeding,’” and another that would place restrictions on companies selling baby formula that is, according to health officials, harmful.
Their efforts were unsuccessful, so, according to media reports, the US reportedly “threatened” any country that supported the resolution, including Ecuador and several South American and African countries. The US has denied allegations it threatened any country during negotiations.
Though Ecuador withdrew its support for the resolution, Russian delegates took up its sponsorship, and the measure passed, amended partially by the US in two ways: language was removed offering WHO support for nations trying to stop ‘inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children,” and the phrase “‘evidence-based” was added to some provisions about advertisements supporting breastfeeding.
Critics charge that the US delegation is unduly influenced by lobbyists for formula manufacturers.
Erroneously advertised baby formulas, while claiming to be authentic, can be detrimental to babies’ health. They can sometimes even cause death, Rundall said.
“I don’t think people thought about it very much,” she said, “that… marketing could lead people to the extent… that you would actually have babies dying.”
In a tweet Monday, President Trump said that the “U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many woman need this option because of malnutrition and poverty.”