Saturday, August 23, 2008

Monopolies on human milk and its components

The ultimate result of our ethics code (tenet #25), is that IBCLCs must respect, understand, recognize, and acknowledge the monopolization of human milk and its components. While in my previous post on "Patents and Breastfeeding," I wrote that patenting does not restrict breastfeeding. Yet, monopolization eventually creates restrictions. For instance, the rise of our new human milk industry (Prolacta Bioscience) seems to have coincided with media discussions of the dangers of private persons milk sharing over the internet. This has coincided with IBCLC discussions of the dangers of wet-nursing [cross nursing, etc]. Not that these discussions shouldn't take place but the timing of these discussions makes one wonder. An industry arises that will monopolize a "standardized' human milk based on "donor" human milk. Women who share their milk rather than donate it to Prolacta are circumventing the monopoly. In fact the non-profit milk banks (HMBANA) are a threat to Prolacta's claims. Although I am not sure what restricts a non-profit milk bank from selling its milk to Prolacta as a way to keep their doors open. So Prolacta may not be such a threat to HMBANA milk banks.
We will be hearing more about the dangers of sharing human milk among friends or on the internet. And we will hear more about the dangers of cross nursing/wet nursing. Eventually, men and women will perceive that the only safe way to share human milk is through the authorized milk banking system and that it is not safe to cross nurse. What is the reality? Wet nursing has occurred throughout human history. Was it safe? One can suppose it was safe, infants survived. But we can be assured that now it will be considered dangerous because we have a monopoly to protect.
Like the infant formula industry, the human milk industry benefits from the belief that human milk transmits some diseases and some toxins. It also benefits (like the infant formula industry) from the belief that premature infants need fortification. I realize the response is that scientific research has proven that hiv is transmitted through breastfeeding and that certain environmental toxins are transmitted through human milk. And scientific research has proven that premies need fortification. Most of that scientifc research, the basis of our knowledge of human milk is funded by the infant formula industry. Anytime research is funded by industry, reality becomes distorted by the wants and needs of that particular industry. Most of that research lacks clear definitions of "breastfeeding." Thus the clarity of the picture of what is happening is shrouded by mixed feeding.
Does a new industry arise out of true need for a product or the need for a profit? Certainly, there is a mixture of needs. But what is the real driving force? Ultimately, in our society the reality is that often the real need is lost in the drive to obtain a profit.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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