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Brooklyn leads ‘blowback’ on Trump’s promotion of $70B baby formula industry

July 9, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: A nursing mom, City Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr., U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and a breastfeeding advocate on Monday called out the Trump administration for attacking a World Health Organization recommending breastfeeding. The press conference took place at City Hall. Photo courtesy of the Office of Rep. Carolyn Maloney

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Greenpoint) and New York City Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant) called out the Trump administration at a press conference on Monday for “bullying” small countries in an attempt to block a World Health Assembly resolution supporting breastfeeding.

“Yet again, the Trump administration has proved that corporate profits are more important than the well-being of the American people,” Cornegy said in a statement. “As a husband and father of six children who has experienced firsthand the serious impediments nursing mothers face in safely and freely breastfeeding their children, I will not stand by while this administration puts billion-dollar companies’ profits ahead of the health of newborn babies and nursing moms.”

According to a report in The New York Times, the U.S. threatened small nations in an effort to blunt a resolution promoting breastfeeding and discouraging the marketing of substitutes.

The resolution says that, according to years of scientific research, mother’s milk is healthiest for infants, and that countries should limit inaccurate or misleading substitutes.

The U.S. reportedly threatened to withdraw military aid and “unleash punishing trade measures” over Ecuador’s sponsorship of the resolution, causing Ecuador to drop its sponsorship. At least a dozen other poor nations in Africa and Latin America also backed off in fear of retaliation, the Times reported. Russia eventually introduced the measure, apparently without threats from the U.S.

“We should not be bullying other countries and attempting to water down resolutions that would recognize the importance of breastfeeding for infants and would work against misleading attempts to sell substitutes for a mother’s milk,” Maloney said in a statement. “We should be supporting all efforts to make breast feeding easier and more accepted. We should be taking a stand against corporations that try to muddy the waters and confuse mothers into thinking that formula is always the way to go.”

Baby formula is a $70 billion industry, according to the Times. An investigation by the Guardian/Save the Children claims that formula milk companies are using “aggressive, clandestine and often illegal methods to target mothers in the poorest parts of the world to encourage them to choose powdered milk over breastfeeding.”

President Donald Trump disputed the Times story with a Twitter blast on Monday.

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“The failing NY Times Fake News story today about breast feeding must be called out,” Trump tweeted. “The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, studies show that numerous factors in breastmilk help protect babies from illnesses including asthma, diarrhea, liver disease and type 2 diabetes.

However, a spokesperson for the same Department of Health and Human Services defended the U.S. opposition to the measure on Monday, saying that it would “impede women’s access to vital baby formula when breastfeeding is not an option,” according to The Hill website.

Brooklyn Big on Breastfeeding

Brooklyn has been ahead of other cities when it comes to promoting the health effects of breastfeeding. 

On Monday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who worked with Cornegy to install a lactation room at Borough Hall, railed against the administration’s strong-arm techniques. The evidence that breast milk is vital to strengthening a baby’s immune system and brain development is “overwhelming,” Adams said.

“If the White House won’t stand up for raising healthy children and families, the People’s House will. Brooklyn’s babies are counting on us,” Adams said in a statement.

He added, “There’s nothing truly ‘pro-life’ about the Trump administration, as evidenced by their callous threats against basic support for breastfeeding. It is unconscionable to put the health of corporations over the health of children and their mothers.”

In 2016 Adams partnered with Brooklyn hospitals for a baby cards initiative, which offers information on breastfeeding and other resources for parents. The cards also invite parents to visit the lactation lounge at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Cornegy opened a dedicated lactation space in his own district in 2014, cooperated with BP Adams on a Borough Hall lactation station, and has supported measures in the City Council to increase the number of breastfeeding locations throughout the city. His measures were lauded as a victory for women’s rights and was signed into law by Mayor de Blasio in 2016. 

President Barack Obama signed parts of U.S. Rep. Maloney’s Breastfeeding Promotion bill into law in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. She was honored for her work on behalf of breastfeeding mothers in 2015.

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