from the milk-of-human-kindness dept
As most people know, babies who are breastfed from birth enjoy a wide range of benefits. Here's what the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), a global organization with nearly $5 billion of funding, has to say on the topic of breastfeeding:
It has profound impact on a child's survival, health, nutrition and development. Breast milk provides all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or food are needed. In addition, breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat disease.
Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and childhood leukaemias. Studies have shown that breastfed infants do better on intelligence and behaviour tests into adulthood than formula-fed babies.
Formula milk, by contrast, can actively harm babies:
Formula is not an acceptable substitute for breastmilk because formula, at its best, only replaces most of the nutritional components of breast milk: it is just a food, whereas breast milk is a complex living nutritional fluid containing anti-bodies, enzymes, long chain fatty acids and hormones, many of which simply cannot be included in formula. Furthermore, in the first few months, it is hard for the baby's gut to absorb anything other than breastmilk. Even one feeding of formula or other foods can cause injuries to the gut, taking weeks for the baby to recover.
The case for breastfeeding, and against formula milk, seems pretty clear. But a new publication from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the "2017 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers" (pdf), begs to differ. As a post on the Public Citizen site explains, the USTR calls out several countries for promoting breastfeeding over formula as a "technical barrier to trade" that might harm the profits of US industries. These are some of the polices that the USTR wants eliminated:
Hong Kong: The Report criticizes a Hong Kong draft code, designed to "protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children." USTR labels the policy as a technical barrier to trade due to its potential to reduce sales of "food products for infants and young children."
Indonesia: USTR labels a draft regulation in Indonesia that would prohibit the "advertising or promotion of milk products for children up to two years of age" as a technical barrier to trade.
Malaysia: USTR questions Malaysia's proposed revisions to "its existing Code of Ethics for the Marketing of Infant Foods and Related Products" that would restrict corporate marketing practices aimed at toddlers and young children.
Thailand: The report critiques Thailand for introducing a new regulation that would impose penalties on corporations that violate domestic laws restricting the "promotional, and marketing activities for modified milk for infants, follow-up formula for infants and young children, and supplemental foods for infants."
Although "technical barriers to trade" sound like a minor issue, they lie at the heart of modern trade deals. Traditional tariffs are now relatively low in many parts of the world, which means that the hard part of trade negotiations is often these "non-tariff barriers" (NTBs). Indeed, it was in large part a failure to agree on the removal of NTBs that caused the TAFTA/TTIP talks to grind to a halt, and then end up in limbo when the Trump administration took them over.
The USTR's attack on policies that promote breastfeeding over formula milk may seem extreme. But they are typical of the way the USTR views the world primarily through the optic of boosting the profits of US companies, with no thought to the harms this may inflict on people in other nations as a result. No wonder that trade deals are viewed so negatively in many parts of the world.