I’ve already posted today the new fad of nursing your infant (or, often, not-so-infant) at government meetings in order to prove some point or other, reporting the example of Miami City Commission candidate Gabrielle Redfern, who breast-fed her 1(!)-year-old during a mayor’s speech and then claimed that she was just trying to be a good mother (see my Breast-Feeding in Public Office, today below).
Now, in keeping with the mammary theme, here’s a letter from reader N.E., complaining about the IWF’s protest against a proposed U.N. resolution that would require the manufacturers of infant formula for bottle-feeding to plaster their products with warning labels as though they were packs of cigarettes and not perfectly safe foods that have been been safely used by millions of women and children here in the United States since the 1950s. (See also my Breast-Feeding Totalitarians, April 7.) N.E. writes:
“To say that infant formula is an excellent source of nutrition for infants is like saying that a prosthetic leg is an excellent replacement for your real leg. It may be an acceptable replacement if you had lost your leg because of illness or accident, but why would you choose a prosthetic leg if you had a good leg? If you’d researched this you would know that there are some well-documented risks to artificial feeding of infants. Risks that some women have to take, granted, but risks that many women are ignorant of. I believe that is what the U.N. is trying to do, to inform women of the risks that women are taking with their own and their children’s health.
“I think your energy would be better spent in helping women have equal pay, better maternity benefits, and accommodations so that they don’t feel like they have to choose between breastfeeding and keeping a roof over their heads.
“Formula feeding makes women reliant on others (big business or government since WIC provides our children with ‘free’ formula), making them slaves to their products and frees them of taking personal responsibilty of their health and their children’s health. I would think breastfeeding fits much better with your organization’s stated mission statment. since it does strengthen women, making them self-reliant and free to choose and liberates them from the influence of big corporations which would try to manipulate their choices for the purpose of increasing their ‘bottom line.'”
No, N.E., infant formula isn’t like a prosthetic leg. It’s a food–a food that many women choose for their babies when the food that their own body supplies is unavailable because they either can’t nurse or they’re trying to balance work and family lives. Infant formula doesn’t need special regulation or warning labels. It has been sold off the shelf in U.S. supermarkets since the 1950s, to millions of mothers who have fed it to their infants with no ill effects. If those same women can freely buy soy milk if, say, they’re allergic to cow’s milk–why can’t they freely buy formula, which is often soy-based, if their own milk is insufficient or they can’t bring their babies to their places of work?
Yes, feeding babies formula can be hazardous in Third World countries–but that’s because the water in many of those countries isn’t safe to drink without prior boiling. But that’s not a problem unique to infant formula; it’s a hazard connected with all foods that require water in their preparation. Obviously, all residents of developing countries need information about food safety–or better yet, decent drinking-water supplies. But that’s a public-health problem, not an infant-formula problem.
The U.N.s real aim–and yours, too, N.E., as your letter amply illustrates–seems to be to set up a massive, government-funded propaganda campaign in favor of breast-feeding and also to strike a blow against big corporations, which the socialist mindset of most U.N. bureaucrats regards as evil because–the companies are in the business of making profits! Imagine such a thing! So we get draconian restrictions on advertising like this one in the U.N.’s proposed “International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes”:
“Neither the container nor the label should have pictures of infants, nor should they have other pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula….The terms ‘humanised,’ ‘maternalised’ or similar terms should not be used.”
What–a cuddly baby on a label is supposed to be Joe Camel?
Behind such proposals, of course, is the assumption that Third World mothers are too stupid to make the decisions about what’s best for their children. Here in the United States, millions of women every day–including millions of women who happen to be immigrants from the very countries over which the U.N. is wringing its hands–get to choose among an array of safe, nutritious, and attractively marketed substitutes for breast-milk. Millions of others choose to breast-feed–freely and without government prodding. But when it comes to the women of Fiji or Nigeria, we can’t have them making decisions on their own. Oh, and we can also put capitalistic Nestle out of business while we’re at it.
And yes, N.E., here at the IWF, we believe that women should be–and are smart enough to be–self-reliant and responsible for their children’s health. The way to do that is not to set up a monstrous regulatory and punitive government apparatus like that contemplated in the U.N.’s infant-formula proposals.