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The Sordid History of Infant Formula and Trump’s Attempt To Bully, Blackmail & Threaten Third World Countries

Photo by nerissa’s ring | CC BY 2.0

The 1974 article titled The Baby Killer blew the lid off the Nestle bottle formula scandal. (1) Companies like Nestle used women in nurses uniforms to sell their baby formula. They provided free samples to mothers who would use the formula. These women would then find their breasts had stopped giving milk after a month of using the infant formula. Now they were hooked and needed to pay for the formula yet the family income in many cases was only $7 a week. What unfolded was a tragedy: from mixing the baby water with unsafe water sources to not being able to afford the expensive baby formula and diluting it to make it last longer. The result was deaths of babies in the millions, malnourished babies with stunted growth condemned to a lifetime of physical and mental disability.

A stunning example of free-market murder feeding the worlds children to a $11.5 billion industry.

A million infant deaths a year are blamed on a reliance of infant formula rather than breastfeeding. (2)

The recent attempt by the United States to overturn 40 years of World Health Organisation consensus that breast feeding is universally better for babies is a prime example of the desperation of United States capital and how entwined corporate interest has become within the government.

American officials first sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding”. When that failed they resorted to threats of trade measures and withdrawing military aid to help assisting in the drug wars. (3)

The press has blown up because under an internal code of the World Health Organisation baby formula companies are banned from explicitly targeting mothers and their health careers. Advertising is also controlled. This is what 3rd world nations were trying to achieve.

“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breast-feeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” said the Ecuadorean official, who asked not to be identified because she was afraid of losing her job.(3)

South American countries should be least shocked of all on the ideology of the United States. Profit over everything. Even other the corpses of a million babies a year to keep the $11.5 billion Infant Formula industry going. This new era of a naked and brazenly corrupt capitalism from the United States is prime evidence of a desperate and shamelessly awful system struggling to make profit in a time of Great Power rivalries. Because in an era of great power rivalry, making some profit is not enough. Making super profits is what is required.

“In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.”

Millions more grow up in conditions of malnutrition and stunted growth at a key time of their development. All so companies like corrupt companies like Abbot Laboratories & Nestle can earn that sweet, sweet profit. It has been common consensus for decades now that breastfeeding is the preferred method of feeding your child. Even under conditions that are ideal for infant formula (ie. in the first world with easy access to clean water etc).

Abbot Laboratories was one of the companies that produces infant formula for sale in the 3rd world. Abbot Laboratories also contributed to a part of $107 million to Trumps inauguration. (4)

“For a time, many companies employed ‘’mothercraft’’ nurses, most of whom wore white uniforms, who visited women in maternity wards and in their homes. As they helped mothers to cope with infant-rearing problems, many of the nurses also promoted their company’s formula. Dressed in traditional nurses’ uniforms, they conveyed the false impression that independent health professionals — not company employees — were recommending formula feeding.” (2)

But conditions in the 3rd world aren’t ideal. A lack of access to both money to buy the formula and access to clean water has meant mothers are watering down their baby formula with dirty water.

“Director general of the W.H.O., says that ‘’evidence from developing countries indicates that infants breast-fed less than six months, or not at all, have a mortality rate 5 to 10 times higher in the second six months of life than those breast-fed six months or more.’(2)

Infant formula was a terrible solution to a problem that never should have existed outside of fringe cases where a mothers milk has dried up due to stress/health reasons. The current corporate drive to replace breastmilk with a profitable artificial product is convincing women perfectly capable of producing wholesome, plentiful breastmilk to become consumers of expensive, imperfect and sometimes lethal infant formula(8). But it does showcase brilliantly how innovative capitalism is. It can create a market from anything. It also shows how the capitalist world uses the full arm of it’s advertising, propaganda and cultural penetration to make profit from the world where there should be none. It is a scandal that it remains a $11.5 billion and growing market. (5)

A big problem in the third world was that the advertising portrayed Infant Formula as the best thing for their children despite the World Health Organisation saying it wasn’t and the companies themselves knowing it wasn’t. Aggressive advertisement by these companies has lead to women in Third world nations believing it to be superiour to breast milk. The advertisements (though subtly) hinted that formula milk was better and breastfeeding was for the lower classes.(8)

Banned from entering maternity wards directly in Singapore for example, Dumex milk nurses would wait just outside the hospital gates to catch new mothers with free samples on their way home.(8)

This naked display of power and aggression by a waning United States that no longer feels it can get what it wants via diplomacy and soft power, particularly with an issue as benign as Infant formula and mortality rates should offer a glimpse into just how corrupt the country is.

In January of this year David Norquist, the Under Secretary of Defense in the US department of Defense, declared an end to the war on terror and opening the $686 billion budget for the military said

“Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to U.S. security and prosperity. It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values and, in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II.”(6)

That values he ascribes to appear to be “profit over the lives of babies”. And he is prepared to pursue those values, of unfettered free market violence, via a three front war against Russia and China. (7)

The resolution on breastfeeding was introduced however purely because the Russians chose to throw their weight behind it. A Russian delegate had this to say on the matter.

“We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.” (3)

I deliberately, in my writings, do not use the terms “developed” or “undeveloped countries”. It is not accurate to describe nations in Africa/Asia or Latin America as “undeveloped” which implies some kind of fault on their behalf. Third world nations have been systematically under-developed by the first world. Every corporation from the west has come to those shores to extract their pound of flesh from the people which leaves them in abject poverty or outright kills them. The infant formula scandal is just one example of a thousand in seeing how western corporations make their super profits off the backs of the Third World. And they are happy to do it with the result of quite literally millions of dead children and millions more who are stunted in the first years of their lives and suffer phsyical/mental suffering that will last a lifetime.

Beware the foreign ‘nurses’ that come bearing gifts.

Notes.

(1) http://archive.babymilkaction.org/pdfs/babykiller.pdf

(2) https://www.nytimes.com/1981/12/06/magazine/the-controversy-over-infant-formula.html?pagewanted=all

(3) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/health/world-health-breastfeeding-ecuador-trump.html

(4) https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/health-companies-gave-generously-president-trumps-inauguration/

(5) http://uk.businessinsider.com/nestles-infant-formula-scandal-2012-6/#cial-rights-groups-say-baby-food-companies-still-dont-comply-14

(6) https://fpif.org/the-pentagon-is-planning-a-three-front-long-war-against-china-and-russia/

(7) https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1439211/presidents-fiscal-2019-defense-budget-request-calls-for-6861-billion/source/GovDelivery/

(8)https://newint.org/features/1982/04/01/babies/

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R S Ahthion is a geopolitical analyst living in the UK. The author’s work focuses on questions of social and international justice whose work has appeared in The Greanville Post. Never fails to be disgusted by capitalism. Spends his free time writing fiction, studying history, politics, ideology and philosophy.

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