Media are reporting on how the US threatened Ecuador with trade sanctions if it did not back off a resolution meant to promote breastfeeding around the world at a Geneva convention this spring for the United Nations' World Health Assembly. The resolution was expected to pass easily, but US delegates aimed to remove language that encouraged countries to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" in an alleged alignment with baby formula manufacturers. The U.S. officials, according to the Times, first tried to remove language from the resolution that called on nations to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding".
The Times reported that the USA delegation threatened other nations, by suggesting that the US would implement trade measures with the objective of punishing them, citing more than a dozen participants from several of the countries present. If all children under six months were exclusively breastfed, World Health Organization said it thinks "about 820,000 child lives would be saved every year".
"What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the US holding the world hostage and trying to overturn almost 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health".
The administration told Ecuador that if it did not pull its resolution, it would respond by cutting military aid and adopting harsh, retaliatory trade measures.
An Ecuadorian official said that his government did not anticipate the harshness of America's response.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which said it did not threaten Ecuador, defended its decision to push back against the resolution.
The official said, "Women should have access to full and accurate information about breastfeeding", as well as "full information about safe alternatives when breastfeeding is not possible". It said breastmilk is healthiest for children and that countries should prevent false or misleading marketing of substitutes. Here, they reportedly hand out "infant nutrition" pamphlets to mothers, which appear to be medical advice but in fact recommend specific formula brands and sometimes have money-off coupons. The position of the United States is aligned with infant formula manufacturers (the USA dominates the $70 billion industry, which has been on the downturn in wealthier nations in the last few years as more women are breastfeeding), and, unsurprisingly, was a complete about-turn from the Obama administration. Over all, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations. "The Trump administration takes a bold stance against mother's milk", a New Republic headline read.
They also sought to hinder World Health Organization efforts to provide lifesaving medications to undeveloped countries.
But in the US, disparities in race, income and geography underscore the work that's left to do to support USA mothers who want to give their infants breastmilk. The report said the United States delegation was also unsuccessful at defeating a different measure on access to medicines.
A Russian delegate told the New York Times that "the final resolution preserved most of the original wording".