Excuse me, there's a lobbyist in your nursing bra

How formula companies watered down a federal public health campaign.


Katharine Mieszkowski
September 1, 2007 1:10AM (UTC)

When it comes to issues like global warming, the Bush administration infamously takes its cues from industry instead of scientists. So it should be no surprise when the feds are caught kissing corporate butt on public health policy, too. Yet, even at this late date in Bush's scandal-ridden reign, this great investigative piece in the Washington Post has the power to outrage.

The gist: A few years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services planned an ad campaign, which would have warned families about the risks of feeding infants formula, dramatically linking bottle feeding to health problems such as asthma. But before the campaign ran, the formula makers caught wind of it and threw a hissy fit, hiring none other than the former head of the Republican National Committee to lobby the health agency to squelch the campaign. According to the Post, the formula makers feared that if the ads appeared they might actually be subject to a class-action lawsuit from angry parents who'd erroneously believed that their product was equivalent to human milk.

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After hearing from the formula lobbyists -- read some correspondence here -- the Department of Health and Human Services took pity on the poor formula folks, putting their corporate concerns ahead of the health of the nation's infants, and toned down the ad campaign. The new ads took a more upbeat approach, focusing on the benefits of breast-feeding instead of the drawbacks of formula. There was zero evidence that the watered-down ad campaign had any positive effect on breast-feeding rates whatsoever, to the great relief of the formula lobby, I'm sure. The cherry on top: You know things are really bad when the advertising company working on the campaign resigns from the account in protest.

If there is any bright side to this story, it is my hope that we can look forward to a lactivist nurse-in at the Oval Office, where Bush himself will have to answer to a bevy of moms with babies at the breast.


Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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