Sunday, November 18, 2007

The gold rush,mining for human milk components

Human milk is considered the "gold standard" for creating artificial baby milk. The infant formula industry funds and studies human milk in order to create a better infant formula. What is created by this need to constantly improve infant formula is a system in which human milk researchers and the infant formula industry are bound together by mutual interests. The researcher wants to make a living and the industry wants to sell a product, particularly a new improved product.
Breastfeeding organizations assume that human milk research will make breastfeeding more acceptable to the medical and scientific community. Yet, the driving force of research in a capitalist society is to make a profit, to make products, to patent, to monopolize those products or ideas. It is not to create a breastfeeding society, unless there is a profit to be made in creating such a society.
The infant formula industry isn't the only industry interested in the properties of human milk components. The pharmaceutical, food , and supplement industries are also interested. This interest has been driven by our gene revolution. Scientists in these industries believe they can imitate life, recreate it, and improve it. They can study human genes and recreate, recombine, and make products that improve upon nature.
How do these scientists of industry obtain human milk? Who sells it? Who gives it away? The early human milk component patents obtained their human milk from donor milk banks. A HMBANA milk bank (not for profit) is mentioned in one of the first human milk component patents I read. Some patents mention obtaining human milk from medical universities lactation labs (Baylor College of Medicine). Some patents mention a company named Sigma. In writing Sigma about where they obtain their human milk, I was told that it was proprietary information.
Women give it away and industry trades and sells it (although Sigma states that their products are for research purposes only). They patent off it and hope to make a profit. Yet women still devalue their milk. In fact it is so devalued by some women, that they won't even breastfeed. They must spend their money on the artificial product. They enrich an industry because they cannot breastfeed. This same industry keeps the knowledge of human milk components (their gold mine) a secret. Patenting is about secrets and monopolies. The industry makes a profit and the consumer becomes a little poorer.

1 comment:

  1. Capitalist society at its best. Economic agendas of big medical companies progresses medical inventions not people getting sick.