What’s best for baby is not best for money makers
Though difficult to establish without assistance, breastfeeding is cheap. Like unmedicalized natural birth, no one makes a profit. Profit makers have been trying to upend natural practices like these for some time.
In places like the USA, where corporations fill the purses of politicians, policymakers are pressured to ensure profits. A recent example in the news shows how politicians are putting corporate interests first, and thereby promoting illbeing in children. (I give some highlights of the story here, but there are several twists and turns discussed in the report that go beyond this particular incident, so I urge you to read the whole article).
The World Health Organization sought to pass a resolution anticipating it would be quick since it was based on decades of research and there has been worldwide consensus. But no, the Trump administration had other ideas. Here is the resolution:
- “Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.”
Drawing on interviews with over a dozen witnesses, the New York Times reports about what happened when the resolution began to be discussed:
“Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.”
The US delegation argued to water down language promoting breastfeeding and language restricting promotion of artificial food. When that did not work, the US 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.” The delegation did everything it could to bully poorer nations to step away from the resolution, even threatening trade sanctions.
Reporter Andre Jacobs noted: “The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.”
In response to the report, Lisa Reagan of Kindred Media said to me: “America’s long-entrenched cultural devotion to death-worshipping greed is no surprise to activists. The calculated action to allow American children to fall behind in health and life expectancy all for corporate profits is ancient child sacrifice to cultural gods, plain and simple.”
As context, readers should recall that artificial formula was originally created for sick or orphaned children, not for normal children. It is an emergency artificial food that keeps babies alive; it is unable to match the dynamic (responsive to child needs at the time) elixir that breastfeeding provides to grow bodies and brains in the ways needed. But formula companies have been pushing formula on normal families for decades, even with taxpayer funds, giving the misimpression that formula is almost as good as breast milk.
There is a reason that breastfeeding has been around for over 30 million years—it is species-specific, “designed” by evolution to optimize normal development. And in humans, breastfeeding was shared when necessary (Hrdy, 2009).
Also troubling, the USA delegation was able to get some language removed from the resolution and almost had “evidence-based” inserted, referring here to randomized controlled experiments. Without question, we cannot conduct randomized experiments on babies in regards to formula vs. breastfeeding—that would be unethical. Instead, we look to evolutionary and animal evidence as well as controlled correlational or post-treatment studies that measure differences.
Of course, studies typically look at a few months of breastfeeding, not at children who receive our species average of 4 years (Konner, 2005; Montagu, 1968). (Think how healthy we could be!)
THE RAPID RESPONSE
Many organizations who are not beholden to formula manufacturers, have protested the US delegation’s behavior. The US Breastfeeding Committee has put out a statement for organizations to sign on: USBC Statement on WHA Resolution on Infant and Young Child Feeding“.
Here are a few more responses from organizations who promote breastfeeding:
- 1,000 Days: Statement from Lucy Sullivan on the U.S. Opposition to the World Health Assembly Breastfeeding Resolution
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Blog Post: ” Every time a baby goes to breast, the $70 billion baby food industry loses a sale“
- American College of Nurse-Midwives: ”ACNM Releases Statement in Support of Breastfeeding“
- American Public Health Association: ”US opposition to UN breastfeeding resolution defies evidence and public health practice“
- Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs Sign-On: ”Letter to HHS Secretary Azar re WHA Breastfeeding Resolution“
- Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Letter to Secretary Azar
- Maternal & Child Health Communication Collective: ”It Is Always The Right Time to Put Babies Before Profits“
- National WIC Association Condemns U.S. Opposition to Breastfeeding Resolution
- United States Lactation Consultant Association Joint Statement on the Opposition of the United States to the 2018 World Health Assembly resolution on breastfeeding