Thursday, August 21, 2008

Patents and Breastfeeding

There was a comment/questions to my last blog entry that I felt needed to be addressed.
"Laws here in Europe would not prevent a mother from breastfeeding due to any intelectual issues. Is the United States more restrictive? Do mothers be stopped from breastfeeding if research makes new findings and if involved in patented."
Patenting of human milk and/or its components do not restrict or prevent a mother from breastfeeding in the US or for that matter any place in the world. Patenting of human milk is restricting knowledge. A well-functioning democratic society needs information to implement policies/laws that benefit society. Patenting of human milk, means that information that is necessary for a community or the medical establishment to make good decisions about infant feeding is limited or virtually non-existent. Many health care professionals do not know that human milk is a prebiotic and probiotic substance. (the infant formula and dairy industry holds patents on the components) Many health care professionals think that the breastfed infant should be given a supplement--a probiotic or prebiotic. Interrupting an exclusively breastfed infant with a prebiotic or probiotic is rather odd, when the scientific basis of prebiotics and probiotics is human milk. Nestle/Danone have quite a few patents on probiotics, all derived from research on the breastfed infant. Consumers have no clue as to how these companies obtain the organisms that make a prebiotic or probiotic. They do not realize that basis for these supposed "health foods" is human milk, the breastfed infant. The dairy and infant formula industry know the value of human milk/breastfeeding...they have a more vigorous scientific understanding than advocates for breastfeeding. That knowledge is withheld not only from consumers but from the very people who need that information the most--advocates of breastfeeding.
For instance, let's look at the information on hiv and breastfeeding. There are patents on human milk components to treat and inactivate hiv. They are owned by the infant formula industry, the US Government, and the drug, supplement industries. Policy in the US medical institutions stops most hiv positive mothers from breastfeeding. There are well-known hiv researchers that call hiv/aids an oxidative stress disease and are involved with the supplement industry that makes supplements for hiv/aids patients. The supplements are derived from human milk research and use human lactoferrin in a synthetic form (human lactoferrin derived from transgenic cows or human lactoferrin genetically engineered from cultures). I need some sort of rational explanation regarding why a hiv-positive mother cannot breastfeed her baby while industries sell products based on human milk research to treat and inactivate hiv. If breastfeeding is a natural "vaccination" against diseases in the mother's environment, won't it seem logical that hiv positive mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed? Infectious hiv has never been found in samples of human milk. Some researchers believe the reason is because components in human milk quickly inactivate the virus. (of course an alternative view would be that since hiv has never been isolated, we would not see it in human milk). So what is the real story? Will we ever really know, when patents/products exist? When the infant formula industry owns the patents to inactivate hiv with human lactoferrin, do we suppose that they will support breastfeeding? Will they give us all the information they have on how human lactoferrin inactivates hiv? I think not. Hiv/aids has been a great money-maker for the infant formula industry. Why would they give this information out? It is very helpful to the infant formula industry to have people believe in the yuckiness of breastmilk--it is diseased, it is toxic. The media broadcasts this on a regular basis, backed by scientists who often have ties to industries that make money when breastfeeding is ditched. Even many breastfeeding advocates believe without question that hiv is transmitted through breastmilk. Research has never proven this but this premise is now written in books like a fact. Why? What industries win because of this belief? Knowledge is what is lost with intellectual property rights.
Patenting does not stop breastfeeding but the knowledge restriction that is and has occurred means that in the US there is little understanding of the value of breastfeeding and human milk. The infant formula/pharmaceutical industries (almost one and the same) understand fully the value of breastfeeding and own alot of the patents on human milk (synthetically produced through genetic engineering). That information becomes a closely guarded secret. Thus hiv-postive mothers will use infant formula with human lactoferrin and take supplements with human lactoferrin in treatment of hiv/aids. They will never know that the component used in the formula and in the supplements are based on human milk research. They won't ever question why they were told they couldn't breastfeed their infants. And neither does the breastfeeding community because there are patents/products/profits to be made. Knowledge empowers people, secrecy creates a manipulated society.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain


After rereading this post from 5 years ago, I feel the need to clarify the US Government Patent and Trademark's definition of a patent, "A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor, 'to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States,' for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted."

A trade is made.  The inventors and/or owners of the patent obtain a monopoly in exchange for public disclosure.  Very few people in the general public read patents The patents are legally complex, and require a knowledge of science in various disciplines.  Large sums of money are needed to maintain and legally defend the patent.  A system of monopolization, particular when it pertains to patents on life, impacts society in many ways.  Secrecy is easy when the legal and scientific language is incomprehensible to the average citizen,  It is a secret because we can only understand it through the guidance of the experts.  And the experts are usually those who stand to financially benefit.  Patents on life destroy traditional knowledge and values and replace it with a commercialism that benefits a select few.
Copyright 2013  Valerie W. McClain

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