Just over half a year ago, the United States made attempts to ensure that a proposal worth forty years of work by the World Health Organization would be shut down. The resolution, with an aim to protect infant health, pushed to prioritize breastfeeding. It advocated for standards like worldwide government restriction on the advertisement of baby food and formula, promotion of access to scientifically supported education on breastfeeding for expecting families, and truthful labeling of baby products. Current health statistics, as founded by the Lancet, support these standards: “Increasing breastfeeding rates around the world to near universal levels could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children younger than five years and 20,000 annual maternal deaths from breast cancer.” It had majority support from the countries present.
However, as the New York Times recently reported, the U.S.’ initial response to the resolution was critical--U.S. representatives sought to modify its language, namely to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.” After failing to convince the other member-states, the U.S. targeted key sponsor Ecuador through trade sanctions and withdrawal of military aid. With the violence occurring at the border between Ecuador and Columbia, the country had little choice but to back down. This tactic brought silence to many other potential-sponsor countries, until the measure’s reintroduction by Russia. In the end, the proposal remained virtually unchanged, as did the attitude of the U.S. administration-- following the 2018 World Health Assembly (WHA), no legislative attempt to follow these guidelines was made on part of the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responded in defense of these actions in an email, stating that “the resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” and they “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.” President Trump himself reacted to the New York Times article, asserting that it was “fake news.”
Some countries questioned the U.S.’ true motives. In the midst of WHA proceedings, Russia had comments to make concerning the U.S.’ behavior: “We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel 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.” The worldwide media undeniably assigned the U.S. with intentions of protecting corporate interests over mother and infant health. Sources such as Al Jazeera and the Guardian suggested that the U.S. administration had ties to baby formula companies like Nestle and Abbott. Just months prior to the assembly, it was discovered that Nestle had been selling formula with certain ingredients in some countries. In other nations, however, they marketed those same ingredients as harmful, and had them removed. This, along with contributions from Abbott to the Trump inauguration ceremony by Abbott Nutrition, leads us to ask the following question: Where does the U.S. interest primarily lie, with mothers’ health or with corporations?
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In the interest of being transparent, we are a group of multi-racial, -ethnic, and -religious, college-educated women from the state of Michigan. We typically consider our values to be left of center. We are interested in the pursuit of social justice and human rights.