You have probably all seen this reported, and in the global scheme of things, it’s just one more (relatively minor) national embarrassment.
A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.
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.
American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.
And it wasn’t just a pro-forma vote. U.S. diplomats “twisted arms” and threatened supporters of the resolution. Ecuador had planned to introduce the measure; according to reports, American officials warned Ecuador’s representatives that if they refused to drop their sponsorship of the resolution, “Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid.”
The Ecuadorean government–understandably–caved.
Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.
Speaking of threats, some American delegates evidently went so far as to suggest that the United States might cut its contribution to the World Health Organization, which uses America’s significant contribution to fund a variety of important global medical initiatives.
In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.
It wasn’t just breastfeeding. The thuggery was extensive.
The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.
In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for languagethat would limit the ability of Canada, Mexico and the United States to put warning labels on junk food and sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.
During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.
The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a W.H.O. effortaimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.
We have an administration that separates desperate families that have come to us to escape violence and (often) certain death. We put their babies in cages. Now we discover that the American government–our government– bullies health professionals who are working to save lives, in order to protect the pocketbooks of its political donors.
Permit me to modify Joseph Welch’s immortal lines : “Until this moment, I think I never really gauged the Trump team’s cruelty or recklessness… Clearly, they have no sense of decency.”