The New York Times has a good article on the growing movement to limit the marketing of infant formula to new mothers while they’re in hospital maternity wards. In NYC, the Health Department has launched a “Latch on NYC” initiative to support breastfeeding mothers. Maternity hospitals that join the initiative agree to not distribute promotional infant formula provided by formula manufacturers. Instead, formula is treated like medications and other supplies, and provided when necessary on an individual basis.

The policy has been harshly criticized by Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives who have described it as a “nanny state” initiative. Their hero is Mitt Romney who, according to the NYT, made decisions as governor to "pressure the state’s Public Health Council to reverse a ban on formula giveaways and replace three council members who objected." (For more on Romney's decision, see this in-depth treatment by the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Council.)

What the NYT doesn’t explain is that Limbaugh and Romney are the real nanny-state proponents. U.S. infant formula is highly concentrated with three manufacturers (Abbott, Mead Johnson, and Nestle) accounting for 98 percent of the industry’s $3.5 billion in sales. The infant formula industry is massively subsidized through the Women, Infant, Children (WIC) program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 57-68 percent of all infant formula sold in the United States by these three manufacturers was purchased through the WIC program.

Efforts like "Latch on NYC" and the Massachusetts ban vetoed by Romney would likely increase breastfeeding and reduce reliance on formula. This would be good for taxpayers who subsidize the formula market through WIC—and babies—but not for nanny-state conservatives who want to protect the profits of the big-3 infant formula manufacturers.