Trump Threatens Ecuador to Protect Formula Manufacturers, But Then Kowtows to Russia

The Trump administration would rather cave to corporate pressure than protect the interests of mothers.

The editor should have thrown out the script to this screenplay and asked for a more credible take, because this is what we call gilding the lily.

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.

So first the United States, in spite of overwhelming evidence that breastfeeding children leads to far better health outcomes than giving formula, intercedes to try to quash a resolution encouraging the practice. This is done blatantly not on behalf of children but on behalf of formula manufacturers, the biggest of which (Nestle) is not even an American-owned company.

But then it gets worse: the United States starts openly threatening Ecuador, the sponsor of the resolution, as well as other nations in the western hemisphere, with trade war if they don’t scuttle the resolution:

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

How badly do you need to do Nestle’s bidding to threaten mutual economic harm to multiple neighbors and allies over it?

The only thing that would make this story even more on point is some sort of genuflecting to Russia in the bargain. Oh…wait:

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

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.

So the Trump administration will threaten Ecuador with punishing trade war if they help babies. But Russia? Can’t do anything to them!

In the end, the resolution passed in spite of American obstruction and theatrics, though we laid a number of diplomatic landmines down that will make it easier for corporate formula makers to inject their own interests.

If you said a few years ago that this would be a real news story in 2018, no one would believe you. But here we are.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.