Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Double Helix continued

The International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation gave the 2008 Macy-Gyorgy Award to W. Allan Walker, Director of the Harvard Medical School Division of Nutrition. Integrity in Science had a brief write up on this Harvard Department because their 7th Annual Postgraduate Nutrition Symposium (2005) on "The Childhood Obesity Epidemic" was sponsored by unrestricted grants from such companies as McDonalds and such infant formula companies as Nestle, Wyeth, Mead Johnson, Dannon, and Ross.
As Director of the Department of Nutrition of Harvard, W. Allan Walker gave the introductory speech for this symposium. In 2007, he gave the introductory speech for the Symposium, "Breastfeeding and Atopic Disease." This Symposium was presented by Harvard's School of Nutrition and the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation (ISRHML) and it was made possible through unrestricted educational grants from Mead Johnson, Nestle Nutrition, Ross Nutrition, and Wyeth Nutrition.
Thus, the foundation of human milk research seems to be based on the funding of the infant formula industry. Of course that does lead to some questions. But who can ask those questions in this society? Even a majority of breastfeeding advocates refuse to ask those questions. Is a researcher truly independent of his financial backers? Are our researchers biased, blinded by their funding or who employs them? How does critical thought exist when it is tied to whether you can economically exist or will be able to ply your expertise? Is there a middle road that researchers can walk while serving an industry? While walking the middle road is economically safer for the individual, is it safer for our society? As industry infiltrates our educational systems, will students ever understand that their "knowledge" is based on what industry wishes us to know? Does industry know best? or the very best as Nestle loves to tell us? Do we consumers really have shared values (Nestle's belief of corporate social responsibility) with industry?
I have been told to quit being naive about life. In the US, our motto seems to be "he who dies with the most toys, wins." I recently saw that bumper sticker on a Beamer on I-95. The first time I saw that statement, I laughed. Now, I feel a sense of loss...the humor escapes me. Our value system is tied to making lots of money and buying lots of things and that should give us happyland. But our personal Happyland comes with an enormous price tag for the rest of the world. How can one be happy while the rest of the world suffers the consequences of one society's greed? How do we call it corporate social responsibility when an industry sells a product that sabotages breastfeeeding? How can we be truly educated, when that education is sponsored by the corporation?
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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