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Trump sided with formula manufacturers to try to stop a pro-breastfeeding resolution at the United Nations

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 9/07/2018 Jacob Shamsian, INSIDER

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  • The United States tried to stop a pro-breastfeeding resolution at the United Nations, but ultimately failed.
  • Russia sponsored a compromised version of it after two days of negotiation.
  • The US threatened Ecuador and other countries of withdrawing military support and trade retaliation so they would pull sponsorship.

The United States pressured other countries to stop a resolution that promoted breastfeeding at the United Nations, according to the New York Times.

The resolution ultimately passed in a compromised form, removing language that called on the World Health Organization to support countries trying to stop "inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children."

Initially, the Trump administration wanted to remove language that called on governments to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" as well as another portion of the resolution that asked lawmakers to restrict promoting food that can be harmful to young children.

In the past several decades, scientific consensus has concluded that breast milk is ultimately healthier for children than infant formula, although not all parents are able to breastfeed. A 2016 study found that "the deaths of 823,000 children and 20,000 mothers each year could be averted through universal breastfeeding, along with economic savings of $300 billion [USD]."

But the popularity of breastfeeding can cut into sales of infant formula manufacturers, and companies who produce formula have a long history of interfering in international affairs to promote formula over breastfeeding at the expense of infant health.

The United States tried to halt the resolution by pressuring Ecuador, which initially sponsored it, by dropping out. When Ecuador refused to water down the resolution as the United States requested, according to the Times, the Trump administration threatened punishing trade measures and withdrawing military aid.

Ecuador gave in.

"What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the US holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health," Patti Rundall, the policy director of the advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the New York Times.

Several other countries backed away from sponsoring the resolution in fear of US threats. After two days of negotiation, Russia sponsored it.

"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 told the Times.

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