Donald Trump put a climate change denier as the head of the EPA. He pulled us out of the Paris Agreement on climate. He attacked our allies and supported our adversaries. And now the Trump administration—in the name of every American—has threatened Ecuador and other smaller countries over a World Health Organization resolution promoting the importance of breastfeeding for children’s health.
It’s bad enough that Trump and his enforcers are putting children into cages on our own soil. Now, they are showing that they care little about children’s health in the rest of the world, either. This administration is—make no mistake—an enemy of children, particularly those from low-income families and nations.
According to The New York Times, this spring, a U.S. delegation gathered in Geneva at the World Health Assembly, which is part of the WHO, opposed, threatened, and bullied other nations over a resolution—based on decades of consensus—that declared breastfeeding the healthiest option for children and sought to limit the marketing of breast milk substitutes.
Specifically, the U.S. went after Ecuador, which planned to introduce the resolution, with threats of retaliatory trade measures and the cancellation of U.S. military aid to the South American country. Yes, you read that right: We threatened to pull military aid and economically punish a country that wanted to say that a mother’s milk is the healthiest option for babies.
According to the Times:
American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.
When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.
The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.
Officials from Uruguay, Mexico, and the U.S. told the newspaper that poorer nations from Latin American and Africa were afraid to step up to support the resolution out of a fear of retaliation by the U.S. The efforts by the U.S., which were led by the Department of Health and Human Services, clearly benefit infant formula manufacturers, a $70 billion industry, according to the Times.
The newspaper said that health advocates did not see direct evidence that baby food industry lobbyists played a role in these repulsive U.S. tactics, but those lobbyists did attend the meetings in Geneva.
Advocates who work globally to promote and educate about the benefits of breastfeeding said they were “appalled” by the U.S. behavior.
“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” Patti Rundall, policy director at the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the Times.
In the end, Trump administration efforts were unsuccessful, as Russia stepped up to introduce the resolution with most of its original wording intact. A Russian delegate told the Times that, “it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”
According to a study in The Lancet, universal breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year around the world.
At the same meeting in Geneva, the U.S. also sought to remove statements supporting soda taxes to fight global obesity.