June 2019

Dear Colleagues,                                                                         

I am writing as a member of the Community Breastfeeding Collaborative of Guelph, as a founding member of WABA (World Alliance of Breastfeeding Action) and a current member of their International Advisory Board to provide you with a set of documents on infant feeding and climate action. 

In the fall of 2018, I visited Mike Schreiner, Guelph’s MPP (member of provincial parliament), and Ontario’s first and only green MPP, to ask him on behalf of the Collaborative if he would designate his constituency office as a mother-baby friendly workplace, and learned that he is knowledgeable about and supportive of breastfeeding. I offered to provide him with documentation on how green feeding might further the objectives of Canadian Green parties.

At the same time, my colleague at GIFA in Geneva, Alison Linnecar, was also reaching out to green parties in Europe in advance of the EU elections. Since we have worked together in the past on issues around breastfeeding and women’s work, food security, and environmental contaminants, we are used to trying to reconcile North American and European approaches and priorities concerning infant feeding. We both saw the need to remind climate change activists that breastfeeding should be considered in public health interventions, since it is a practice that has no carbon footprint, contributes to water conservation and helps in the reduction of air pollution.  Meanwhile, global sales of breastmilk substitutes increase rapidly, boosted by aggressive marketing techniques. We agreed on using the term Green feeding as a focus to integrate not only infant formula but also complementary feeding products. While some of these polluting industrial products are necessary for babies who are not breastfed, they need energy to manufacture, materials for packaging, fuel for transport, and water, fuel and cleaning agents for daily preparation and use, and they generate Green House Gases (GHG). 

We worked together on these documents, first for Canada using the priorities of the federal Green party, and then for Europe, using the ten key priorities for action of the Green movement. The advocacy papers bring together much of the evidence available on the harmful environmental impact of bottle feeding compared to the beneficial effect of breastfeeding on our children and our planet.  In total, we produced four documents:

Ontario is facing serious budget cuts for basic services by a government and premier who not only trivializes climate change, but undercuts existing environmental protections affecting climate change. At the same time, Canada has joined the UK and Ireland in declaring a climate emergency. We hope that these documents demonstrate that individuals and groups that support breastfeeding families are also helping to address this climate emergency, and will be of use to you in your work.

Penny Van Esterik (esterik@yorku.ca)

Professor Emerita, York University

Adjunct Professor, University of Guelph

PS These advocacy documents are the result of a collaborative effort begun by Penny van Esterik and Alison Linnecar with the assistance of Britta Boutry and Rebecca Norton. We have all benefitted from on-going discussions with breastfeeding and climate change activists, but these are not official publications which have been reviewed and approved by all interested parties. They are intended as starting points to encourage other individuals and groups to integrate green feeding into their ongoing advocacy work on climate change.