US accused of blackmail after refusing to cave to World Assembly’s view on breastfeeding

The United States pushed back against claims that it is “anti-breastfeeding” after coming against a  resolution encouraging the method of feeding infants.

The U.S. warned Ecuador at a World Health Assembly in Geneva that it would cut military aid and apply severe trade measures if the nation went through with introducing a measure to promote breastfeeding, The New York Times reported.

(Image: Pixabay)

The resolution contended that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for young children but the U.S. objected to some of its language, including a pledge to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.”

The American delegation “embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations,” the Times report stated.

But Caitlin Oakley, the national spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, explained that the claims about the U.S. pushback are “patently false.”

“Recent reporting attempts to portray the U.S. position at the recent World Health Assembly as ‘anti-breastfeeding’ are patently false,” she said in a statement, according to The Hill. “The United States has a long history of supporting mothers and breastfeeding around the world and is the largest bilateral donor of such foreign assistance programs. 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,” she added. “Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies.”

(Image: screenshot World Health Assembly Opening May 2018)

Health advocates scrambled to find other sponsors after Ecuador dropped the resolution.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health,”  Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, opined.

Russia eventually introduced the resolution which, in its final version, preserved most of the original wording.

The obviously biased report from the Times claimed the incident “was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.”

Public health officials and foreign diplomats were supposedly “stunned” by the intense U.S. opposition, and “described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration,” according to the Times.

The report pointed out that lobbyists from the baby food industry were present at the World Health Assembly meetings. However, “health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics,” the Tines stated.

The State Department declined to comment to the publication. But the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that led the effort to modify the resolution, contended that the original wording “placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children.”

“We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons,” a spokesman for the agency told the Times. “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.”

Frieda Powers

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