This week the World Health Organization will promulgate a code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. As sometimes occurs in the United Nations, the United States may stand alone: we may be the only country to vote no, although we expect several countries to abstain. We take this stand while at the same time the United States spends millions of dollars each year promoting breast-feeding as the best way to feed infants. We support breast-feeding; what we cannot support is the code.
The U.S. government reached the decision to vote no after two years of unsuccessful efforts to make this code less rigid and after days of hearings and long hours of debates, Because of its provisions, the United States could not -- and would not -- wish to enforce the code here at home, so we have reached the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience vote in favor of it.
The code seeks to ban advertising of infant formula to the public, no matter how truthful the information in the advertising. As in the case of UNESCO's effort to control the free flow of press information, the United States is very much opposed to such regulation of information by U.N. bodies. The code in addition interferes with the role of health professionals in dealing with their patients by assigning to government -- not doctors -- the central role in informing families about infant feeding. Once again, assigning more and more tasks to the state is a practice favored by many nations but not one that the United States wishes to encourage by a yes vote.
As proponents of the code point out, it is a recommendation that does not become law in any country until that country's legislature enacts it. Because of this, some of the major industrialized countries, which have grave doubts about aspects of the code, are going to vote for it, ignore provisions they oppose and avoid controversy. They will apparently take this position, even though the World Health Organization resolution adopting the code says it is "a minimum requirement" that "all member states" should adopt "in its entirely."
Americans expect their government to state clearly its position on this and other questions in the United Nations. We do not like to stand alone but are prepared to do so -- on questions ranging from economic freedom to support of Israel -- if necessary to defend our principles and friends.
The United States continues to believe that breast-feeding is the best form of infant feeding, and we will continue to promote breast-feeding through our foreign aid program each year, and to persuade women, particularly in developing countries, to breast-feed.
But for those who cannot or do not wish to breast-feed, infant formula is the best alternative. Millions of mothers use harmful substitutes for brest-feeding milk, such as local water (often contaminated) mixed with sugar, or corn, or flour. For these women and their children, a mixture containing infant formula would be an improvement in health. Indeed, if the World Health Organization code makes it more difficult to find out about infant feeding, including the availability of infant formula and its correct use, the health of children may actually suffer. The notion on which the code is based -- that demand for breast milk substitutes is entirely a creation of advertising -- is misleading and untrue.
The United States will continue to promote breast-feeding as the best form of infant feeding, but we cannot support a detailed and inflexible code, global in scope and rigid in structure, that our laws and our traditions would never permit us to implement at home. We believe strongly in this position, and we are prepared -- if necessary -- to stand alone on it. To begin changing our positions whenever they are unpopular in the United Nations is a policy with staggering implications, and one this administration rejects completely.