WASHINGTON – Following recent reports that the Trump administration sought to block or water down a World Health Organization resolution promoting breastfeeding, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) joined 23 of their colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley seeking more information about the United States’ involvement. The senators expressed their concern over reports that the United States worked to remove language to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” in the resolution and threatened retaliatory tariffs or cuts in assistance against countries who supported it.
“Studies have found that breastfeeding could prevent more than 800,000 child deaths a year around the world and 3,340 premature deaths a year in the United States,” the senators wrote. “Women should have access to the most accurate information regarding the benefits and risks associated with infant nutrition methods, and countries should strive to limit inaccurate or misleading marketing campaigns.”
In addition to Cardin and Van Hollen, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ed Markey (D-Ma.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
The full letter text is available here and below.
July 12, 2018
The Honorable Nikki Haley
United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations
United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Ambassador Haley,
We write to express our deep concern over reports that the Trump administration sought to block a resolution recognizing the importance of breastfeeding at the May 2018 World Health Assembly. Given the longstanding support for the promotion of breastfeeding among World Health Organization (WHO) members, we seek additional information regarding why the administration opposed this resolution, and the degree to which U.S. officials threatened to impose punitive trade measures or withhold aid from countries that introduced or supported the resolution.
As you know, nearly 40 years of scientific research have demonstrated the benefits of breastfeeding for infant and child nutrition and development. Notable international organizations, including WHO, UNICEF and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have published statements detailing the benefits of breastfeeding, and promoted policies to increase breastfeeding rates. Further studies by The Lancet and Harvard Medical School found that breastfeeding could prevent more than 800,000 child deaths a year around the world and 3,340 premature deaths a year in the United States. Many families, however, choose to use infant formula. This is an important option for families who elect to use formula exclusively–or in addition to–breast milk. Women should have access to the most accurate information regarding the benefits and risks associated with infant nutrition methods, and countries should strive to limit inaccurate or misleading marketing campaigns.
The administration’s reported actions to pressure other countries from introducing the resolution or to remove language to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” are particularly concerning, and we seek additional clarification regarding any threats to withhold foreign assistance or to punish countries through trade measures in response to actions related to the proposed resolution. The United States should be using its role in multilateral organizations to reach consensus on international agreements. Instead, in this instance as in other recent events, the United States has needlessly threatened and intimidated allies while ceding leadership on international policy to Russia.
As we work with you to improve maternal and child health, we request your insight into the administration’s actions to oppose WHO’s resolution recognizing the importance of breastfeeding, including any coordination you may have had with the Department of Health and Human Services. We look forward to receiving additional information regarding this situation in writing or in a briefing from your staff.