Big News Comes Under Small Headlines

 An unremarkable resolution promoting breastfeeding provoked a stunningly aggressive action by a US delegation to throttle it, at least until the Russians stepped in to salvage the resolution.

An unremarkable resolution promoting breastfeeding provoked a stunningly aggressive action by a US delegation to throttle it, at least until the Russians stepped in to salvage the resolution.

Sometimes the most revealing stories are the ones with small headlines reporting on events occurring in the shadows. Such as the stories reporting the United States aggressively sought to block a global resolution backing breast-feeding and deleting language favoring soda taxes to reduce obesity.

In both cases, the US position appeared in alignment with positions advocated by infant formula manufacturers and soda producers. Perhaps ironically, Russian delegates stepped in to preserve the global resolution backing breast-feeding. The delegates said they based their decision on “principle.”

Research solidly supports breast feeding, which makes the US position at the World Health Assembly in Geneva all the more puzzling and stunning to delegates from around the world, according to The New York Times

This wasn’t a friendly disagreement. Ecuador offered the resolution and the American delegation threatened to “unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid,” the Times reported. Ecuador capitulated.

“The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States,” the Times said. Other nations balked at requests to offer a substitute resolution in the wake of the US action. At least until Russia stepped in. The US delegates didn’t threaten the Russians.

Delegates were reportedly stunned by the “intensity” of the Trump administration’s opposition. They pointed to the $70 billion global baby food industry lurking in the shadows of the assembly. They also noted the Trump team’s position was diametrically opposed to the position expressed by the Obama administration.

“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breast-feeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” an Ecuadorean official, who asked not to be identified because she was afraid of losing her job, told the Times.

At the same assembly, US officials successfully throttled a statement supporting soda taxes. That position squares with a Trump effort in NAFTA negotiations to limit Mexico’s and Canada’s ability to require labels on sugary beverages.

“The [US] delegation’s actions in Geneva are in keeping with the tactics of an administration that has been upending alliances and long-established practices across a range of multilateral organizations, from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal to NAFTA,” the Times summarized.

The Trump administration has threatened to cut its $845 million contribution to the World Health Organization, which represents 15 percent of the group’s total budget.

“It’s making everyone very nervous, because if you can’t agree on health multilateralism, what kind of multilateralism can you agree on?” said Ilona Kickbusch, director of Global Health Center.