United States delegates at the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly this spring in Geneva shocked the World Health by embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers. The resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates available. The resolution was upended due to the US having a different opinion from decades of research which says mother’s milk is healthiest for children. Decades of research have proved that breast-feeding babies not only benefits the baby but also their mom.
They turned to threats when they failed 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.
The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States. Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America backed off citing fears of retaliation; according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico, and the United States. What happened was tantamount to blackmail with the U.S. holding the world stage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young health.
The State Department declined to respond to questions saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in the effort to modify the resolution explained the decision to contest the resolution’s wording but said H.H.S. was not involved in threatening.” The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email.“We recognize that not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons and these women should have a choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies and not being stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.”The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.
In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure and the Americans did not threaten them.