Here’s a letter from reader L.J. regarding the IWF’s opposition to proposed U.N. and World Health Organization regulations that would require the manufacturers of infant formula to put the equivalent of a skull and crossbones on every package of the stuff marketed in the Third World. The proposed new rules are the latest strategy of the radical breast-feeding mafia, which seems determined to ban infant formula altogether because its manufacturers–horror of horrors!–are corporations in the business of making profits. (See our open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, my Breast-Feeding Totalitarians, April 7, and the Mailbags for April 25 and May 2.)

L.J. writes:

“It is sad to see that despite repeated research showing the differences between formula and breast-milk, there are those who remain woefully undereducated. As we (industrilized US) send our care packages and marketing ploys of free formula to Third World countries, we have seen an increase in infant morbidity as a result of this act.

“The UN/WHO intent is NOT to make formula ‘illegal’ but to prevent the continuation of ncouraging formula usage that not only undermines that culture’s traditions but also increases their infant morbidity by exposing them to contaminated water, counterfeit products and malnutrition due to inability to access the product with the same ease as we take for granted here in the U.S.

“U.S. mothers still maintain the right to choose how and what to feed their infant. The protection suggested is one for those mothers who face the same misleading marketing ploys as we once did in the early 1940s and led to the current fair-trade and truth-in-advertising laws we now see in the US. The increased health-care costs (well researched and documented) by the ignorant concept that formula and breast-milk are equal should be of greater concern to your organization as your premise is to also lower health-care costs for women and families.

“On a personal note–how can supporting a mother who chooses to breast-feed be considered in any way unempowering or feminist? To use the body system in the manner it was developed for is the most natural part of female maturation. Those who choose not to follow this course or are unable to do so should not be made to feel less empowered or given a trite palliative excuse such as what you are using as your rationale. To choose whether or not to breast-feed remains the business of that childs mother only–not a focal point for feminists or groups such as yours.”

Just a factual note, L.J.: American mothers who formula-fed their babies during the 1940s generally did not use commercially manufactured infant formulas, which were not widely marketed until the 1960s. Infant formulas back then were typically home-made concoctions (based on pediatricians’ recipes) of whole or evaporated cow’s milk, water, and sugar. Many women back then did consider formula-feeding more sophisticated and “progressive” than breast-feeding, which they associated with their tobacco-chewing country cousins. But remember that the mothers who refused to breast-feed during the 1930s and 1940s were the most prosperous and best-educated cohort in the country, FDR-supporting liberals to nearly a woman. They would have scoffed at the notion that they were pawns of capitalist marketing ploys.

We at the IWF agree wholeheartedly with you that the decision whether or not to breast-feed a baby should be entirely the mother’s–which is why we oppose efforts on the part of the U.N. and other organizations to stigmatize bottle-feeding. We think that mothers in the developing world are just as intelligent and just as attentive to the needs and health of their babies as U.S. mothers and should therefore have the opportunity to freely choose whether to breast-feed just as U.S. mothers do, without the interference of a propaganda machine designed to frighten them away from the infant formula that they may have many good reasons for choosing.

You seem to agree, L.J., that the problem with infant formula in the Third World isn’t the formula itself, but its use in conjunction with contaminated water–or the use of non-nutritious counterfeit or jerry-built substitutes. That’s a genuine public-health problem that can scarcely be blamed on legitimate manufacturers. I fail to see how placing a death-warning on a bottle of genuine infant formula will do anything to quell the problem of counterfeits.