Everybody’s talking about the uproar at this year’s meeting of the World Health Assembly, from scientists and policymakers to celebrities on social media. “WE SHOULD BE SCREAMING ABOUT THIS,” actress and activist Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter. So what exactly happened, and what did the United States do that took everyone by surprise?
Let’s break it down. At a meeting of the World Health Organization, Ecuador put forward a resolution to encourage breastfeeding across the globe, expecting a quick and easy approval. They certainly didn’t expect anyone would find controversy in the idea that breast milk is the healthiest option for babies, and that countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes. It seemed like a no-brainer.
But to everyone’s surprise, delegates from the United States objected, even going so far as to warn Ecuador that Washington would withdraw military aid and issue trade sanctions against them if they didn’t modify the language. Ecuador backed down, and then other countries, fearing similar retaliation, passed on sponsoring the proposal. Russia finally stepped in and introduced the measure, and voila! no more threats. The resolution passed, with some of the language slightly modified.
The US objected to phrases that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and a section that asked policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products meant as a supplement to go with breast milk. Social media exploded with accusations that the US was putting the interests of formula makers ahead of families.
The US Department of Health and…