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Trump Administration Sours on Breastfeeding

Coming to blows over “breast is best”: In one of the more bizarre international incidents involving the Trump administration, U.S. officials strong-armed would-be sponsors of a World Health Assembly resolution that called for supporting breastfeeding and limiting misleading marketing of substitutes, Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times writes. The U.S., in a possible concession to the $70 billion baby food business, threatened Ecuador with trade reprisals and a withdrawal of military aid if it didn’t drop the resolution, and other nations also backed off their support. In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. Russia ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and wasn’t threatened by the U.S. President Trump responded on Twitter to Jacobs’ article, saying that it mischaracterized the U.S. position and that many women need access to formula “because of malnutrition and poverty.” But Roni Caryn Rabyn of the Times writes that Trump missed the point – actually several points. While formula is important for many mothers who can’t breastfeed or choose not to, breastfeeding is lifesaving in areas where rates of malnutrition and poverty are high, she writes. Powdered milk mixed with unclean water is dangerous for babies and can lead to diarrheal diseases and deaths. Plus, breastfeeding has positive health effects for the mother, and breastfed infants have a lower risk of a host of illnesses.

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A $15 minimum wage for Massachusetts: Governor Charlie Baker has signed a law making his state the third, along with California and New York, to set a minimum wage of $15 in the coming years. Eighteen other local and statewide wage increases take effect this month. Yet there’s not a single U.S. city or county where someone making the federal or state minimum wage can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rates, writes Tanvi Misra for CityLab. A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that, on average in the U.S., rental households would have to earn an hourly rate of $22.10 to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, or $17.90 for a one-bedroom apartment. Those figures vary widely state by state. In Massachusetts, renters would need $28.64 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

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Hiding the health risks of formaldehyde: The Trump administration has suppressed a scientific assessment that found most Americans are exposed to enough formaldehyde through their daily life to put them at risk for leukemia, nasal and throat cancer and other conditions, Annie Snider of Politico reports. Formaldehyde is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the United States. It’s in furniture and nail polish, insulation and cleaning products, bedding and baby wipes. A source within the Environmental Protection Agency told Snider that political appointees have suppressed the report without leaving a trail of emails or other documents that show what they’ve done. Delaying the report is part of a broader campaign within the EPA to undermine research into the health risks of toxic chemicals, Snider writes. An EPA spokeswoman denied that the report was delayed intentionally, saying it was under review. But Snider notes that Scott Pruitt, who resigned last week as administrator of the EPA, told senators in January that the draft assessment was complete. Can we expect more transparency on the topic now that former coal and chemical lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has taken the helm at the EPA? Wheeler was staff director in 2004 for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when Republican leadership worked to delay a similar assessment, Snider writes.

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Speaking of the EPA: Pruitt worked aggressively to roll back clean air protections, including the Clean Power Plan and vehicle efficiency standards. Just before leaving office, he cleared the way for “super polluting” freight trucks. And critics say he worked to undermine independent science. Umair Irfan of Vox takes stock. Wheeler may have a similar vision for the agency, one focused on reversing and delaying environmental regulations. But he has far more experience in Washington. Lobbyist Frank Maisano told NPR’s “All Things Considered” that Wheeler has more respect for the career agency staff there. And his experience means he could be more effective than Pruitt, carrying out the president’s environmental agenda while avoiding the kind of ethics controversies that plagued Pruitt, Coral Davenport of The New York Times writes. Wheeler has said that humans affect the climate but he is less certain about how. For years, he worked as an aide to Senator James Inhofe who calls human-caused climate change a “hoax.” Marianne Lavelle looks at six opportunities for Wheeler to reshape climate policy, for better or worse.

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Coral-bleaching sunscreen blocked in Hawaii: A new law in Hawaii will ban most sunscreens now on the market, starting in 2021. The law targets products that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, which dramatically deform coral cells and disrupt reproduction, leading to rapid bleaching. Oxybenzone can deform coral cells at a concentration equal to about one drop in 6.5 Olympic-size swimming pools, Mother Jones has reported. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group, said the law “severely compromised” the health and safety of millions of residents and tourists in Hawaii based on “weak science,” The Washington Post reported.

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Keep shoveling the coal: A Trump administration plan to prevent coal plants from shutting down would cost one American life for about every 4.5 coal jobs it protects, according to a new analysis by Resources for the Future, a nonprofit research group. The administration’s efforts would delay retirement of about 3 percent of coal plants in the country over the next few years, adding 22 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and causing as many as 815 premature deaths from air pollution, the analysis found. The administration is working to save coal and nuclear plants at risk of closing, saying the security of the nation’s power grid is at stake. According to a memo leaked in May, officials have considered ordering grid operators to buy power from struggling plants, Jennifer A. Dlouhy of Bloomberg News has reported.

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An NRA lobbyist at the Interior: Benjamin Cassidy may have violated ethics rules when he participated in a February Interior Department briefing on “international conservation,” one that likely covered trophy hunting and animal imports, according to a report by Chris D’Angelo of HuffPost. When he was appointed to the department in October, Cassidy would have been expected to sign President Trump’s ethics pledge barring executive branch appointees from working on matters for which they represented special interest groups in the prior two years. Cassidy had been a lobbyist for the NRA for seven years and recently had worked on legislation that dealt with animal trophy imports. While Cassidy’s exact role at the department is unclear, D’Angelo writes that “the breadth of bills Cassidy lobbied on while with the NRA would significantly limit the policy issues he’s allowed to work on while still complying with his ethics pledge.”

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Veggie-linked outbreak expected to grow: At last count, 212 people in four states had been sickened by an intestinal parasite after reportedly eating Fresh Del Monte Produce vegetable trays, mostly purchased from convenience stores. Cyclosporiasis started showing up regularly in the United States in the mid-1990s, linked to imported produce, particularly from Central and South America. Symptoms, including stomach-related illness, fever and fatigue, can occur up to one week after the contaminated food was eaten, so health officials expect the number of confirmed cases to climb, writes Mihir Zaveri of The New York Times. Even as cyclosporiasis outbreaks occur year after year, the route of contamination is not well understood, so preventing them is difficult.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.