Trump denies US opposition to WHO breastfeeding resolution

  • Published
Baby and bottleImage source, PA
Image caption,
Years of research has found breast milk to be healthier than other substitutes

US President Donald Trump has defended US efforts to reportedly undermine a World Health Organization (WHO) measure in support of breastfeeding.

A New York Times report claimed US officials fought against language that all governments should "protect, promote and support breastfeeding".

The report alleges that the US threatened countries over the resolution, which eventually passed.

A government spokesperson called the reports "patently false" on Monday.

On Twitter, Mr Trump "called out" the Times and said the "US strongly supports breastfeeding".

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According to the Times report on Sunday based on interviews with dozens of meeting participants, US negotiators in Geneva objected to the resolution encouraging breastfeeding around the world and allegedly resorted to intimidation tactics to bully other countries into dropping it.

American officials allegedly sought to remove the language pushing for global government support of breastfeeding practices and attacked countries that were in favour of it.

Ecuador had planned to introduce the bill, but according to the newspaper, backed out after they were threatened with punishing trade measures and the withdrawal of US military aid.

Officials also reportedly threatened to cut US aid to the WHO - over $118m (£89m) this year, which amounts to roughly 15% of the organisation's annual budget.

The resolution was passed when it was introduced by Russia, but the US did successfully strike out language calling for WHO support to nations trying to prevent "inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children", and added the phrase "evidence based" to certain provisions.

Trump stirs the pot

Analysis by Tara McKelvey, BBC White House reporter

President Trump responded in an unconventional way to a critical New York Times story about breastfeeding and US government officials.

Another leader might try to tamp down the controversy, allowing his officials to handle the matter by reinforcing the benefits of mother's milk - and steering clear himself. But Mr Trump's different.

In a tweet, he says the US supports breastfeeding - but he also rips into the "failing NY Times", saying it should be "called out". This reflects his long-standing feud with the media and his well-founded belief his supporters will believe him and not "Fake News".

Trust in the media has eroded in recent years and, according to a Gallup Panel survey, people say more than 40% of what they see in the media is inaccurate.

This makes the newspaper an easy target for the president and lets him turn people's attention to the media - and away from the controversy over mother's milk.

WHO has long supported breastfeeding, and years of research has found breast milk to be healthier than other substitutes.

Baby formula companies have for decades sold more product in developing countries than developed ones, the Times reported, suggesting the US policy was in line with companies' interests.

Image source, Chrissy Teigen
Image caption,
US model and actress Chrissy Teigen raised eyebrows for posting an image of her breastfeeding on social media

The US State Department has refused to comment on the report.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defended the US delegation's approach.

"The issues being debated were not about whether one supports breastfeeding," HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement.

"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 stigmatised; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies."