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USA puts fierce squeeze on breastfeeding policy, shocking health officials

10 July 2018

Officials at the assembly this spring were shocked by the Trump administration's reaction to the resolution and support for infant formula manufacturers, but perhaps they shouldn't have been.

While Ecuador had plans to introduce the initiative, the country later made a decision to drop it after the USA reportedly issued threats of economic retaliation.

Mr. Trump said the country "strongly supports" breastfeeding, but the issue the USA representatives had was with denying access to formula.

American officials told Ecuador - which was planning to adopt the measure - that if it didn't drop it, Washington would rope it into the trade war and cut back on military aid.

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Ecuador was set to introduce a resolution based on that research, but as more than a dozen global representatives confirmed to the Times, American delegates threatened the smaller nation with cuts to military aid and reduced trade deals if they went forward with the proposal.

In an email to the Times, the Department of Health and Human Services, which led the charge to make the modifications, said the original resolution "placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children".

The efforts of the U.S. were ultimately unsuccessful, as Russian Federation introduced the resolution.

The State Department would not answer the Times' questions. The Ecuadorian delegates acquiesced, and health advocates struggled to find another sponsor for the resolution.

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'We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons.

'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 diplomat said. The US said last month that it was leaving the UN Human Rights Council, citing anti-Israel bias, and President Donald Trump has made critiquing the status quo of major worldwide compacts a hallmark of his approach, from trade agreements to military and security partnerships. Nevertheless, the U.S. delegation sought to wear down the other participants through procedural maneuvers in a series of meetings that stretched on for two days, an unexpectedly long period.

Elisabeth Sterken, director of the Infant Feeding Action Coalition in Canada, said four decades of research have established the importance of breast milk, which provides essential nutrients as well as hormones and antibodies that protect newborns against infectious disease. Some language was still changed however, including removing "inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children" and adding "evidence-based" to some statements.

The Times notes a 2016 series in the Lancet in which researchers estimated that universal breastfeeding could spare the lives of 823,000 children each year and save $302 billion in economic losses.

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The Times reported that the baby food market is a $70 billion industry.