US President Donald Trump on Monday defended women’s “access” to formula milk after an article accused the US of seeking to torpedo a WHO resolution on breastfeeding.
A weekend report in the New York Times said that US delegates to a recent WHO meeting sought to delete from a resolution on infant nutrition language that urged member states to “protect, promote and support” breastfeeding.
The US reportedly pressured Ecuador to drop sponsorship of the text, threatening trade sanctions and military aid cuts.
RUSSIA TO THE RESCUE
In the end, Russia stepped in to introduce the measure — and the final resolution preserved most of the original wording, the newspaper said.
Noting that the US position aligned with infant formula manufacturers, the newspaper cited the case as an example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on public health and environmental issues.
Trump hit out at the article, while saying that the US was committed to ensuring women are not “denied” formula.
“The failing NY Times Fake News story today about breast feeding must be called out,” Trump said on Twitter. “The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty.”
Health experts said the president’s stance suggested a lack of knowledge about the issues.
“Malnutrition and poverty are the precise settings where you absolutely do need to breastfeed, because that’s the setting where access to safe and clean water for reconstituting powdered formula is often impossible to find,” Michele Barry, director of the Stanford School of Medicine’s Center for Innovation in Global Health, told the New York Times in response to Trump’s tweet.
The US Department of State described as “false” the notion that Washington had threatened a partner country.
“The United States believed the resolution as originally drafted called on states to erect hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” a department official said.
“We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons,” the official said, adding that women should have “full information about safe alternatives.”
Ecuadoran Minister of Public Health Veronica Espinosa said her country had fought for passage of the resolution and “did not give in to private or commercial interests, or any other form of pressure.”
The WHO has long advocated exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, and partial breastfeeding for up to two years or more.
However, baby formula represents a huge global market — worth US$47 billion in 2015, according to Euromonitor International — dominated by a handful of groups, several of them US-based, with emerging markets accounting for most growth.
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