In May, a US delegation to the World Health Organization issued stunning trade and military threats in its opposition to a well-established and otherwise uncontroversial resolution encouraging breastfeeding, according to new reporting by The New York Times.
The hundreds of delegates in attendance expected an effortless approval of the resolution by the World Health Assembly, which is the decision-making body of WHO. The resolution simply put forth that mother’s milk is the healthiest option for infants and that countries should work to limit any misleading or inaccurate advertising by makers of breast-milk substitutes. It affirms a long-held position by the WHO and is backed by decades of research.
But more than a dozen participants from several countries—most requesting anonymity out of fear of US retaliation—told the Times that the American officials surprised health experts and fellow delegates alike by fiercely opposing the resolution. At first, the US delegates attempted to simply dilute the pro-breastmilk message, voiding language that called for governments to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding” and limit promotion of competing baby food products that experts warn can be harmful. But when that failed, the US reportedly put the squeeze on countries backing the resolution by making aggressive trade and military threats—a move that further stunned the assembly.