On Sunday, the NY Times revealed that the Trump administration tried to "water down" the passage of a resolution to promote breastfeeding during the World Health Assembly in May: "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. Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations."
Then, when those attempts failed, the U.S. delegation reportedly intimidated the country, Ecuador, initially sponsoring the resolution with trade threats, resulting in Ecuador dropping out. Patti Rundall, who leads 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."
The resolution did manage to pass the World Health Assembly, part of the World Health Organization, with some adjustments, after—wait for it—Russia sponsored it. The Times noted, "the Americans did not threaten" Russia.
It is important that this policy sausage-making be known. The original resolution was intended to make countries aware of the new #IYCF guidance and tools produced by the WHO. Guidance on #breastfeeding in emergencies and disasters for example 5/
— Lucy M. Sullivan (@lucymsullivan) May 25, 2018
President Trump responded to the Times article on Monday afternoon, through his favorite media:
The failing NY Times Fake News story today about breast feeding must be called out. The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2018
Dr. Michele Barry, senior associate dean for global health and director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health in the Stanford School of Medicine, told the Times, “Malnutrition and poverty are the precise settings where you absolutely do need to breast-feed, because that’s the setting where access to safe and clean water for reconstituting powdered formula is often impossible to find."
Andrea Flynn, fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, told Gothamist that she found the Trump administration's moves "totally appalling but not surprising, unfortunately."
"It harkens back to what we saw transpire with his tax bill—all signs of this administration show that they are protecting $1.5 trillion windfalls for corporations but then turn around and can't support programs beneficial for women and their families," she said.
Flynn wasn't buying the president's claims in his Tweet, "Of course, no one is saying that if you don't breastfeed, you don't have access to formula. [The resolution was just] embracing the science that breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for a baby." Women's health advocates, she said, have long promoted breastfeeding—and also supported women to choose the "option to do the best for them and their babies."
"Women who turn to formula may work for employers who won't guarantee paid family leave or time to pump," she added.
Flynn believes that the current White House has "prioritized power and profits for corporations and the 1%" while exhibiting "disdain for programs and policies that are beneficial to women and their families... It's a farce to say that the administration is keeping women's interests in mind."
Rundall also told NBC News that companies are trying to sell women products they don't need, describing it as "a clash between the rights of corporations and the rights of humans... [Pharmaceutical companies] make a lot more money if they can add nutrients and additives and health claims on a product, put it in a plastic-type container and sell it."
Thanks for your support of #Breastfeeding! We also don’t believe women should be denied access to formula (this isn’t actually a problem though). We just don’t think the infant formula industry should be involved in public health policy-making.
— Lucy M. Sullivan (@lucymsullivan) July 9, 2018
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said to CNN, "The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding. The United States was fighting to protect women's abilities to make the best choices for the nutrition of their babies. Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies."
Trump has reportedly demonstrated his disgust for breastfeeding—or even the specter of breastfeeding—before: A lawyer said Trump had an "absolute meltdown" when she requested a break to pump breast milk and called her disgusting.