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The U.S. threatened Ecuador into dropping a U.N. resolution to promote breastfeeding. So Russia stepped up.

The delegates to this spring's World Health Assembly, the annual gathering of the United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, expected that a resolution to promote breastfeeding would pass easily. Then the U.S. delegation tried to water down the resolution, siding with the $70 billion infant formula industry, and when that failed, the State Department threatened Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the resolution, The New York Times reports, citing interviews with more than a dozen participants from several countries.

"The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid," the Times reports. "The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced." Other Latin American and African nations declined to step in, fearing reprisal from the U.S., and the U.S. also reportedly threatened to withdraw its funding for the WHO. "In the end, the Americans' efforts were mostly unsuccessful," the Times says. Why?

It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them. ... A Russian delegate said the decision to introduce the breast-feeding resolution was a matter of principle. "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." [The New York Times]

Decades of research shows that breast milk is the healthiest food for infants, providing nutrition as well as hormones and antibodies, and a 2016 study in the British medical journal The Lancet estimated that universal breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year and save $300 billion in global health-care costs. Infant formula sales have flatlined in wealthy nations but are still growing in the developing world. Read more about the saga at The New York Times.