Baby Formula Industry Has A Long History Of Undermining Breastfeeding Moms
Breastfeeding advocates were outraged this week after The New York Times reported that the U.S. took drastic measures to try to block an international resolution encouraging breastfeeding. Public health advocates see the dispute as yet another reminder of the enormous marketing power of the $70 billion baby formula industry.
“It’s public health versus a massive, massive industry with powerful and entrenched interests,” said Lucy Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit 1,000 Days, which works to improve nutrition for women and children. “They’re only getting more powerful and they’re only getting more emboldened by the likes of the Trump administration.”
The resolution, which advocates expected would pass quickly at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May, was pretty “vanilla,” Sullivan said. It contained new guidelines from the World Health Organization about supporting breastfeeding mothers in crisis situations and encouraged countries to improve breastfeeding rates. It also referred to an international marketing code the WHO adopted in 1981, which restricts unethical marketing of breast milk substitutes. That includes any direct advertising, such as giving free samples of formula at a doctor’s office. The goal of the code is to prevent new mothers from losing confidence in their ability to breastfeed.
The language has long been a sticking point for the U.S., which was the only country to vote against the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes when it was first introduced at the World Health Assembly in 1981. Ensuring that mothers who are able to breastfeed do so is crucial. Bringing breastfeeding rates up to near-universal levels would prevent about 820,000 child deaths each year, according to a 2016 report in the Lancet, a U.K. medical journal.