(photo by Mariah McClain, 2006)
Creating a supportive environment for breastfeeding becomes problematic, when that environment is directed towards the commercialization of human milk components. Donating milk is one issue in which commercialization is impacting lactating women. Currently mothers are being encouraged to donate their milk either through the for-profit milk bank, Prolacta Bioscience, or through the non-profit milk banking system (HMBANA-Human Milk Banking Association of North America). The medical system and the US Health Department discourage private sharing of human milk (through the internet, etc) or wet nursing. The concerns are in regard to the transmission of diseases, legal, and illegal drugs to the baby; when screening is not done. But is this concern the only reason for discouraging private milk sharing or wet nursing? When we know that the US Department of Health and various medical institutions (such as John Hopkins and Baylor College of Medicine) own human milk component patents, we might wonder about whether the issue might also be in regard to the monopolization of a resource (human milk). Discouraging private sharing, means more human milk will go to the institutions and industries that stand to profit from that resource. By discouraging private sharing, a monopolization of a resource is created.
In May of this year (2007), Prolacta Bioscience received over $12 million in private funding. Prolacta sells the "first and only human milk fortifier, made from 100% human milk for use in the NICU.
Prolacta describes itself as a for-profit donor milk bank system. Yet how is fortified human milk equivalent to human milk? Is Prolacta creating a human milk dairying system? In the dairy industry, the cow is just a resource. Her offspring will get some of her colostrum, because calves die without that protective milk. But her offspring will never get her presence as a mother. Because her value is in the product she produces, not in her ability to nurture her own offspring.
The cow's milk we buy from the grocery store does not resemble that which is milked from the cow--it is pasteurized and fortified. It's properties rearranged to suit an industry that needs to transport it miles away from the source. It must have a certain amount of shelf-life, because it is no longer fresh but old. It is pasteurized because it is so easily contaminated because it is handled so many times. The dairy industry promotes the health-giving properties of cow's milk but those health-providing properties were based on research of fresh raw milk. Advertising has convinced Americans that cow's milk is a basic nutritional requirement. The infant formula industry along with our medical institutions has convinced mothers that they are not capable of safely making breastmilk substitutes. Only an industry can safely do so (although the industry when they make a mistake injures or causes death to many infants). Human milk is an absolute health requirement for human infants and children. Making artificial baby milk is always a risk whether by an industry or by one mom in her home. Pasteurizing and fortifying human milk does not make it the same healthy food as breastmilk. Nor does giving a product in a bottle/cup satisfy the need all mammal babies have for sucking and physical contact with the mother.
Prolacta has a consent form for donating mothers. The donor is informed that they "will not be compensated for their donation of breastmilk." And, "the donation will be used to provide nutrition for premature and critically ill infants..." Two paragraphs later, they state, "As a volunteer donor, you hereby waive any and all interests in any proprietary technology that may result from your donation." How many people read consent forms carefully or fully comprehend what they are consenting to? This consent form "skirts" the issue of Prolacta's dual intentions. Yes, they want the use of donor human milk for a premie "formula." But it seems they are also doing a little mining of milk for components of proprietary interest. The donor is relinquishing any rights to what they donated. Thus, Prolacta owns your donated milk. Thus, if Prolacta makes a million on your donated milk (because it has some unique property that can be used in the pharmaceutical, formula, supplement, health care industries), you are agreeing that you don't wish to have some of that wealth. Lactating women might say what are the odds of that happening? But of course, many women do not know that the patenting of human milk components is growing every year and that some of this patenting has resulted in products on your market shelves (from mouth washes, bandages, toothpaste to supplements, yogurts, infant formula, etc). The consent form also releases Prolacta from "any and all liability for discomfort or injury you sustain while participating as a donor." to see consent form
So heck maybe, women should turn to the non-profit milk banking system? to be continued...