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The Trump Administration Threatened a Trade War … Over Breastfeeding

Trump’s escalating trade war has plenty of unlikely victims, from Trump’s beloved Harley-Davidson to red-state standbys like Kentucky bourbon.

But the latest target of the Trump administration’s wrath might be the most baffling and counterproductive one yet: breastfeeding mothers.

U.S. officials tried to sabotage what should have been an uncontroversial international resolution to support breastfeeding, The New York Times reported Sunday, by threatening the country that sponsored it with trade punishments and the withdrawal of military aid.

Even worse, and weirder: the United States only backed off its attacks on breastfeeding once Russia got involved.

The bizarre incident took place this spring in Geneva at the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly. More than a dozen participants in the assembly from several countries spoke to the Times about what happened.

Four decades of research supports the idea that breastfeeding early in life is good for infant health, experts told the Times. One recent study found that universal breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths worldwide and save $300 billion thanks to reduced health care costs and better outcomes.

So it shouldn’t have been controversial when Ecuador planned to introduce a measure calling on governments worldwide to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.”

But the United States delegation to the assembly made a “blunt” threat against Ecuador, the Times reported: drop the resolution, or else “Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid.”

U.S. officials were reportedly responding to intense lobbying from infant formula manufacturers. Another provision in Ecuador’s resolution called on policymakers to follow international code that restricts the “inappropriate” marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Ecuador promptly dropped the breastfeeding resolution, and health advocates desperately sought a new sponsor. At least a dozen countries refused because they feared U.S. retaliation, officials from Uruguay, Mexico, and the United States told the Times.

Then Russia stepped in to sponsor the breastfeeding measure — and suddenly, the Americans stopped their threats.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” Patti Rundall, policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, told the Times.

This story feels like a game of Trump administration Mad Libs. It’s got almost everything Trump is infamous for: attacks on women’s health, favoring corporate interests over the public good, being suspiciously nice to Russia, undermining U.S. allies and multilateral organizations, and threatening a Latin American country.

And just weeks ago, Trump officials reportedly ripped a breastfeeding infant from her mother’s arms — just one of thousands of outrages committed against migrant families under Trump’s brutal “zero tolerance” policy.

No wonder only 32 percent of American women say they approve of Trump’s job performance. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore his contempt for women’s health, lives, and families.

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