When I was in the Peace Corps in Panama from 1967-69, the Swiss conglomerate Nestle’ began to market formula to poor mothers in developing countries. Before then, all mothers who were able breast-fed their infants, often continuing far longer than mothers in the U.S. because breast milk was clean and nourishing. Nestle’ somehow figured out how to approach mothers of newborns in Panama to offer them free “starter kits” of powdered formula, saying it was better for the baby. After the big free can of powdered formula ran out, a mother’s breast milk would have dried up and she was forced to buy new cans. To make the formula stretch, it was often diluted well below the recommended strength and mixed with dirty water. Newborn health plummeted, and infant deaths skyrocketed.
I thought we were well past those days.
The Trump administration has just astonished the world — yet again — by refusing to sponsor or support a resolution to encourage breast feeding offered by the UN backed World Health Assembly. Instead, the U.S. delegation promoted the interests of formula manufacturers. The U.S. threatened retaliation in the form of trade sanctions and withdrawal of military funding against any country who supported the resolution advocating breast feeding.
As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright has pointed out, Trump isn’t speaking into a vacuum. His every move, no matter how callous or bullying or deeply misguided, is supported by his base. They are as culpable as he is.
Swiss conglomerate Nestle’ is back, marketing powdered formula to the poor mothers of newborns in developing countries. They have no shame, and clearly neither does Trump.