Thursday, November 1, 2007

the "only safe alternative"

A comment was made by Anonymous to my last post that "infant formula is a relatively safe alternative-the only safe alternative, I might add-to breast milk."

What studies show us that this is a true statement? Yes, there are studies but the studies are done by the very industry who sells the product. So for example, the safety of DHA, genetically engineered algae and ARA, genetically engineered fungus is determined by Martek Bioscience. The FDA GRAS system is now a process whereby the industry determines its safety not the FDA. The FDA has opted out of a determination of safety. So safety of these products is not based on independent testing but rather by the consumer. If enough people get sick and die, then the product isn't safe and it will be taken off the market.

If infant mortality was tracked by feeding method (exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding, and exclusive formula feeding), we might get a better picture of infant mortality in the USA. In my county in Florida infant mortality for white infants is around 5% but for African American infants it is close to 14%. According to Florida Vital Statistics infant deaths were mostly due to pneumonia, gastroenteritis, and SIDS. It is known that breastfeeding, particularly exclusive breastfeeding has a preventative effect against pneumonia, gastroenteritis, and SIDS. African American babies are the least likely to be breastfed. They are also the least likely to have easy access to the health care system.

Safety of infant formula is based on the illusion that since we don't see infants drop dead after ingesting formula, then it must be safe. We don't see the long-term ramifications of artificial feeding because we are not looking at that issue. We are looking at short-term effects, and even that is smoke-screened because we do not track infant mortality by feeding method.
We do know that some babies have been damaged and die because their infant formula was contaminated with e. sakazakii. Shouldn't we question the safety of infant formula? Like tobacco smoking, the long-term damage takes years to see. And the industry will do everything in its power to load the dice so that consumers are kept ignorant.

The only safe alternative to breastfeeding is the use of donor milk not infant formula. Choice is an illusion. Artificial baby milks have levels of risk, and for some infants the risk is death. A physician once told me that infant formula was safe in the USA because of our excellent health care system. Access to health care in the USA is predicated on your income. Thus poverty, lack of access to health care, and bottle-feeding creates high levels of infant mortality around the world.

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