Statement from Lucy Sullivan on the U.S. Opposition to the World Health Assembly Breastfeeding Resolution

Washington, D.C., July 9, 2018 – Well before the New York Times article, “U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials” broke, 1,000 Days reported on and exposed the Trump Administration’s aggressive tactics to silence support for the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly. In this case, despite the U.S. delegation’s efforts, public health ultimately triumphed over private profit as the resolution was adopted with few changes. We believe that no government should stand in the way of breastfeeding and no company should interfere with policies to protect the health of women and children.

It was clear at the World Health Assembly, as it is now, that the Trump Administration is following the lead of the powerful infant formula industry as they work to undermine breastfeeding and weaken measures that protect parents and children from the misleading and unethical tactics they use to push their products. Infant formula company giants like Abbott, Mead Johnson/RB, Nestle and Danone rake in billions of dollars in profit every year at the expense of the health of mothers and babies all over the world.

The consequences of low rates of breastfeeding are devastating—claiming the lives of over 800,000 young children every year. Breastfeeding is also of paramount importance for women’s health as it protects against breast cancer and ovarian cancer as well as heart disease, a leading cause of death in women in the U.S. and other countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that there are babies who need to use formula and it supports the safe use of infant formula when needed. Despite claims to the contrary, there was nothing in the original World Health Assembly resolution or WHO documents that called for limiting or denying women’s access to infant formula. This is disinformation pushed by the formula industry and amplified by the Trump Administration. While it is encouraging to see President Trump stating on Twitter that he doesn’t believe women should be denied access to a product that might be medically necessary, the reality is that infant formula is widely available. Moreover, it is wrong to suggest, as the President did, that infant formula is a solution to malnutrition and poverty. In fact, research conducted by 1,000 Days together with the World Bank, WHO, UNICEF and others shows the opposite: countries lose billions of dollars each year in the form of avoidable health care costs and lower wages as a result of low breastfeeding rates.

We are pleased that the public outcry over the U.S. Government’s actions at the World Health Assembly elicited statements from President Trump and others in the Administration claiming that the U.S. supports mothers and breastfeeding. If this is in fact the case, the Trump Administration will work to finally put in place a comprehensive paid family policy in the United States that covers all workers, gives all parents the time they need to care for their babies and enables women to reach their breastfeeding goals. In addition, if the Trump Administration wants to do more to support breastfeeding and mothers, it will encourage all formula companies to abide by the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes (often referred to as “the Code”) which lays out rules that govern how infant formula should be marketed in order to prevent babies from dying or getting sick. Currently, no infant formula company follows the Code. We should now use this moment to call on the CEOs of the major formula companies to publicly commit to working toward adopting more ethical and responsible marketing practices in line with the rules set out in the Code.