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developing nations

In a move that baffled much of the world, the U.S. tried to shut down a global resolution to encourage breastfeeding.

For decades, research has tended to show that human breast milk — when it's possible to use it — is the safest, healthiest food for babies around the world. A 2016 series in the British medical journal The Lancet — the most in-depth analysis of the health impact of breastfeeding to date — concluded that more than 800,000 babies and 20,000 mothers' lives could be saved each year with universal breastfeeding, at a cost savings of $300 billion.

A mother in the Central African Republic breastfeeds her child while they wait to see the doctor in a clinic with no running water. Photo via Florent Vergnes/Getty Images.


So when the U.S. delegation to the World Health Assembly voiced strong opposition to a resolution that encourages breastfeeding — not barring access to formula or curtailing mothers' choices in feeding their children but just encouraging breastfeeding — many were understandably flummoxed. The purpose of the resolution was to prevent misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes and limit the promotion of formula in hospitals around the world.

But at the spring 2018 World Health Assembly, the U.S. tried to shut the resolution down, even going so far as to threaten small countries proposing the measure with trade punishments and military aid withdrawal.

Threatening other nations. Over breastfeeding. Yes, really.

President Donald Trump retorted to the Times report with a tweet, displaying a stunning lack of knowledge on the subject.

"The failing NY Times Fake News story today about breast feeding must be called out," Trump wrote. "The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don't believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty."

Each sentence of that tweet contains falsehoods:

1. The New York Times has doubled its stock shares since the 2016 election. It has also won more Pulitzer prizes — the highest award in journalism — than any other news outlet. By no measure is it "failing."

2. Nothing in the breastfeeding resolution suggested denying women access to formula. Formula is sometimes necessary, and women should definitely have the option to choose how they feed their babies — but nothing in the resolution would prevent that. It was about limiting the misleading and predatory marketing and promotionof formula.

3. Malnutrition and poverty are exactly why formula should notbe heavily marketed to mothers, especially in developing nations. Formula is expensive, requires clean water to make, and requires bottles to be sanitized. When moms can't afford it long term, formula gets diluted, and babies don't get the nutrients they need. And unless it's severe, a mother's malnutrition doesn't affect the quantity or quality of her breast milk, so in places where poverty and moderate malnutrition are prevalent breastfeeding is especially important.

So why oppose a measure designed to promote the health and save the lives of infants and mothers? Follow the money.

Since the early 1980s, health advocates have fought to protect vulnerable mothers from predatory baby formula marketers, especially in developing nations. Many resolutions have been passed over the years to promote breastfeeding education and limit such marketing tactics.

But it's not in the baby formula companies' interest to have their product promotion hampered. When the U.S. so clearly puts the interests of corporations over the health of moms and babies, we're in a world of hurt.

Photo via Noel Celis/Getty Images.

To be fair, the Trump administration is not the first to put corporate interests ahead of the public.

Kowtowing to big business isn't new to American politics. A landmark 2014 study from Princeton and Northwestern researchers concluded that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

While the U.S. has been a corporatocracy for much longer than two years, this administration has been far more bold and brazen about it than most. Trump's cabinet has more big business leaders with no government or public service experience than any other president's. Some of them have been leading departments that they directly or indirectly opposed when they were in the private sector. Some (*cough* Ben Carson) have been leading departments they had no experience with. There are real-world consequences to such elections and appointments.

The move to halt the breastfeeding resolution, like so many other moves influenced by corporate money, would have gone unnoticed if not for the Times report.

For a long time, our lawmakers have placed corporate interests above the will of the people — a fact that we would not know were it not for journalists shedding light on what's happening under the radar.

People's faith and trust in the news media has taken a beating with the constant barrage of attacks from Trump and others. But how are we supposed to place faith in our government when we know that policy is being bought and paid for by profit-driven industries?

The press must keep playing its vital role in our democracy — or rather, our corporatocracy — to preserve whatever power the people have left. And the people must use our power at the ballot box if we don't want to continue to be ruled by big business.

True
Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

Cooking dinner usually results in, well, dinner.  But for too many people, it can have a devastating side effect.

For the 3 billion people in developing countries who cook their meals over an open fire, dinner preparation can be a silent killer (and I don't mean from boring table talk).

In fact, it's one of the biggest — and least known — killers of women and kids around the world.


Image via Ed Brambley/Flickr (cropped).

Over 4 million people die every year from inhaling the toxic pollution from unsafe stoves.

Can you imagine?

Having to cook over an open fire — burning dung, coal, and wood for fuel — is comparable to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Not to mention how dangerous it is to live around an open flame every day. Clumsy or not, that's a recipe for burns — or worse.

Luckily, some innovative folks created a cookstove that's pretty incredible. It's saving the lives of moms and kids — and creating jobs.

Image via Esther Havens/The Adventure Project, used with permission.

These charcoal-efficient cookstoves, currently making the rounds in Kenya, are drastically reducing smoke from cooking fires and cutting in half the amount of charcoal needed.

They come from the folks at The Adventure Project, and the impact they've made so far is quite mind-blowing. You don't have to just take my word for it, you can see it for yourself:

Image via Esther Havens/The Adventure Project, used with permission.

The benefits of using charcoal-efficient stoves extend way beyond the food they help to prepare.

According to the group, every stove saves a family 20% of their daily expenses because they use 50% less charcoal per day. And it helps save them time too. In Kenya, the average woman can spend up to 30 hours a week just collecting firewood. But that's not necessary with a clean cookstove.

When Mary bought a stove, it meant her kids could finally go to school.

Image via Esther Havens/The Adventure Project, used with permission.

She no longer has to spend so much money on firewood, and now she's able to send her kids to get an education.

"I am using more money for school fees and buying house goods like food," she told The Adventure Project. "Although the school fees are quite an amount, I can pay them and save money. Every month I spent 1000 on firewood but now I only spend 400 shillings so I can save 600 shillings."

In less than two years, 17,876 charcoal-efficient stoves have been sold in Kenya.

According to The Adventure Project, these stoves have helped more than 89,000 people and saved over 107,000 trees from being cut down.

In other words, they're working.

And perhaps the best part is that The Adventure Project doesn't just give the stoves away. Their model is meant to last.

The organization invests in training people in Kenya, like this stove entrepreneur named Josephat, to make the stoves and sell them at an affordable price to their neighbors. And they make sure everyone is able to afford a stove, even the extremely poor, through low-interest loans. It creates sustainable local business.

Image via Esther Havens/The Adventure Project, used with permission.

Safe and reliable access to energy for cooking is a basic need.

And when you move past the top-line data points and measurements of a cookstove's immediate impact, you can't forget the human element it brings: Progress like this can help families bond and grow closer. Mary can attest to that.

"If they inhaled the smoke they would have very bad coughing and I feared for their health," she recalled. "Now, with the coal stove I can cook comfortably in the kitchen, my husband can finally sit in the kitchen with me and talk to me."

Image via Esther Havens/The Adventure Project, used with permission.

Our global food system is transforming for good — and we're only just beginning. The Adventure Project is just one group out there focused on clean cookstoves and taking small sustainable steps toward a better world.

Helping kids grow healthier, local economies succeed, and families lift themselves out of poverty ... all because of a stove? It's very much happening.