The Times reports that the United States, “embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers,” threw a wrench in the deliberations over the resolution in May, demanding that language asking governments to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding” be removed, as well as a request that policymakers—horror of horrors—“restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.” When Ecuador refused, U.S. officials reportedly turned to threats, telling the nation that Washington would “unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid” if it dared introduce the resolution. At one point, some American delegates even reportedly suggested the U.S. might slash its contribution to the World Health Organization if its demands weren’t met.
All of which came as a shock to countries long accustomed to viewing America as a reasonable entity. “We were astonished, appalled, and also saddened,” Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the Times. “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.” While surprising, it’s not hard to see why Team Trump, which has prioritized corporate profits over public-health and environmental issues since day one, reacted the way it did. Though a 2016 study found that breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year worldwide and save $300 billion from reduced health-care costs for children given breast milk, the $70 billion baby-food industry, dominated by a handful of American and European companies, “has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breastfeeding,” per the Times. And the White House obviously can’t have that!
After Trump’s thugs threatened Ecuador with tariffs, health advocates struggled to find another sponsor, as at least a dozen other countries declined, citing fear of economic retaliation. Which, incredibly, led to this:
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.
“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,” a Russian delegate familiar with the decision told the Times.