Thursday, June 25, 2009

stormy weather....genetic engineering risks

How much of infant formula ingredients are genetically engineered? 2 per cent? 10 per cent? 50 per cent? 75 per cent? 99.9 per cent? Your guess is as good as mine. Read the ingredient list? I can barely prounounce the ingredients and I supposedly learned English in US schools. OK? What about cow's milk? We know that recombinant bovine growth hormone is in cow's milk (unlabeled). Recombinant means that it is was man-created not naturally created. If the product is soy, we know that 80% of US soy crops are genetically engineered. That means that the genes and specifically DNA has been manipulated by someone in some lab. We are told by those who produce this new food that we shouldn't worry, it's safe. And we are told to save the world from famine that it is necessary to use this technology. (Tell this to India, where farmers are committing suicide in large numbers because of crop failures and the necessity of buying genetically engineered seeds--no saving seeds, the farmer must buy from the company store--Monsanto) Genetic engineering seems to be requiring the use of more and more pesticides and herbicides putting farmers at risk financially. And we need to factor in the risks to human health from handling, spraying such chemicals onto your land where you have to breath, drink, and eat.
There is a long list of ingredients in formulas. Do parents who buy this product for their babies know how these ingredients are made/created? Formulas have added vitamins and minerals because the food is highly processed and is devoid of nutrients. Many of those vitamins and minerals are not absorbed well and manufacturing processes often overload the vitamins because of shelf life (18 months).
Many of those vitamins are derived from corn (vitamin c--60% of US corn crop is genetically engineered) or soy. The oils are derived from crops that are often genetically engineered. So who knows what this mix means for infants and their future health.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists genetically engineered foods have a potential of harm to health and the environment.
Dr. John Fagan, a molecular biologist at the NIH for some years, states that there are risks to eating genetically engineered foods. He mentions an increase in allergies. The potential of toxins in foods--specifically mentioning the L-tryptophan disaster in which 37 people died and 1500 people were permanently disabled around the world. L-tryptophan was genetically engineered. It was a supplement and it took a while before anyone understood what had happened. It was called a manufacturing error. Another risk he mentions is reduced nutritional quality.
We face a society in which we learn after the fact that our food is being changed at the molecular level. Food no longer tastes the same, children are sicker and fatter. And we point the finger at parents being too indulgent. Yet food has changed to met the supposed needs of a society that is into fast living, fast food eating. Our foods are laden with salt and sugar and bet ya just can't eat one potato chip ya eat the whole bag. We have become a society addicted to our fast food and fast living. We have to medicate ourselves to survive our food. We feel like crap and we are miserable. We are drawing in the poisonous nature of our food, digesting a world of pesticide, herbicides and now genetically engineered organisms. Our science is mixing human genes with bacteria, fungi, yeast, and animals, and we wonder why we have this new disease called H1N1-swine flu. How is it that diseases are now quickly jumping the species barrier? The government called it a "novel" flu. Novel, great word--we call DHA novel. What does the government mean when they use the word novel, new? What does the future hold for all these babies who are being fed this novel food we call infant formula? We believe that infant formula must have a place in our society. Shouldn't it matter what the choice may mean for the long term health of these childern? Stormy weather life about greater profits and making money? Does money take priority over truth, health and the well-being of our next generation?
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

DHA farming or mutant manufacturing 101

Let's go to the DHA farm. How do ya grow DHA? DHA is naturally present in human milk. DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. If you can prounouce it, go to the head of the class. I think that is why we call it DHA, much easier to say. Its an omega-3 oil and people usually obtain their omega-3's from fish oil or a vegetarian source is flax oil. Martek Bioscience, an offshoot of the Martin Marietta space program, devised a way to produce DHA through algae (single cell oil production). Originally, the direction of this new food science, was to solve the problem of growing food in space. A great deal of creativity and innovation went into solving the problem. But Martin Marietta divested itself of this research and a new company was born in the eighties, Martek Bioscience.
About nine years ago, I happened across a couple of their patents, and wrote about it in Lactnet.
I stated that the patents talked about the use of recombinants in production of DHA. In my mind when we start talking about recombinants we are talking genetic modification (the DNA is not a natural combination, but a man-made mutation). So I stated that I believed that Martek's oils were genetically engineered. Not long after that statement, I received an email from the company's medical director which stated that their product was not genetically engineered and that if I persisted with stating the products were gmo their would be consequences. I didn't know what consequences but I certainly could envision some pretty dire happenings. So, I started using the word "novel" because that is what the FDA used to describe the DHA and ARA sold by Martek. In genetic engineering terminology novel can mean something new but also can mean genetically engineered. Certainly, one can create this oil with the natural or as they state in their patent "wild" type organism. But there are also some problems with manufacturing on a large scale. These oils are farmed in tanks. The algae is not harvested from the ocean or other bodies of water. It may have at one time been harvested from its natural environment but it is grown in a lab, petri dish. For a price at the ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) you can buy some of Martek's algae. Feed it and it will multiply. Anyway, on a large scale, Martek ran into problems making enough of the oil from the algae (and they were experimenting on various algae to see which one's produced more of the oil). They believed that genetically engineering the algae could resolve some of their production problems.
Patents are legal documents and as such one would assume that how something is worded is critical--critical for possible future litigation and critical for an understanding of the technical nature of the patent that makes it innovative. In August 13, 1992 Martek Bioscience filed a patent called, "Infant formula and baby food containing docosahexaenoic acid obtained from dinoflagellates." (patent # 5397591) The inventors, David J. Kyle et al, state:
"Accordingly wild type and recombinant microorganisms designed to produce single cell oil containing DHA are an aspect of this invention. Such recombinant organisms would include those designed to produce greater quantities of DHA in the single cell oil, greater quantities of total oil, or both, as compared to the quantitites produced by the same wild type microorganism, when provided with the same substrates."
This patent does not say "wild type or recombinant" nor does it say "wild type and/or recombinant." So we have a patent written in 1992 that states the use of recombinant microorganisms. We also know through documents that Martek Bioscience was having a hard time keeping up with the production of DHA. ARA oil, is derived from fungi, which is produced at DSM (Dutch State Mine, a Netherland food company that was once an oil company) and shipped to Martek. This novel farming of food is being used in organic products. I am not sure how one would perceive this kind of farming to be organic?? But I guess if you have enough good PR and enough scientific studies about the value of omega-3, then regulating bodies fall sway to the power of belief. Funny how that belief does not support the promotion of breastfeeding. Rather the belief is that the effort, money most go into making a better infant formula. It would seem to me that in giving infants alternatives to breastfeeding, it would be critical that we have a better understanding of novel or gmo products and their effects on our most vulnerable populations.
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

a patent application

Cheshire Cat, all-knowing tree-cat...looking down, seeing what? knowing what?
Lactation consultants might be interested in a patent application owned by Medela. It's called "Method of assessing breastfeeding," patent application 20080108882. It's about a "method of assessing the health of a breastfeeding relationship." I didn't know that assessments are something you could patent. I have this vision of various LCs patenting their method of assessment. Heaven forbid, you use someone's patented assessment without paying a fee. In this case the fee will go to Medela and maybe the inventor will get some bucks for it (Catherine Peta Garbin). Reminds me of Monsanto and the use of their gmo seeds. Everything on this earth is ownable (a word??). Of course one has to have the money to file for patents and pay their yearly fees. So of course that lets me off the hook. I'll just have to invent my own assessment in my head and never talk about it because someone might patent my idea. I envision court cases where LCs will be accused of using the Medela assessment without paying their fees. Or what about the possibility of the infant formula industry getting into patenting of breastfeeding assessment? I could just see Nestle owning patents on breastfeeding assessment. I can also envision companies accusing LC's of using their patented assessments without paying for it. How to make lawyers happy and wealthy and corporations all-powerful! Don't worry, be happy.....
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

Friday, June 19, 2009

who owns that company?

The other day I happened to find out through browsing the internet that a company called, Weston Presidio-a private equity firm-owns the company Evenflo.
They own quite a few companies. Now, Evenflo bought Ameda, the breast pump company. Interesting, eh? But gets even more interesting. Ameda sells on its website Lansinoh Lanolin under their products and accessories page calling it Ameda Lansinoh Lanolin. And Lansinoh pump parts are interchangeable with Ameda Purely Yours. So is Ameda a distributor of Lansinoh products? Are they partners? Now Lansinoh is owned by Pigeon Company (Japan). So things are getting downright complicated in my mind. Was Hollister (I believe they owned Ameda at one time) bought by Pigeon, too? Their website reminds me of Pigeon (the red theme). So who really owns these companies? And what does it mean to be owned by a private equity firm?
Prolacta seems to be financed (owned?) by several venture capital companies. And it seems that Elena Medo is no longer publicly mentioned at their website. Have these venture capitalists eased her out? The BOD seems to be made up of ex-Baxter employees and venture capitalists.
I feel very ignorant about venture capitalists and private equity firms. Where do they get all their millions/billions? Playing the stock market? Who owns these companies? Would the WHO Code mean anything to these companies? Is the bottom line, profit and profit only? We have become an international community through the buying and selling of corporations. So when US political parties take donations from corporations are they taking money from within the country or are outside interests massaging the political process? Who would really know since the ownership of corporations/companies has become so convoluted? Are we becoming "One World" under the guidance of the corporate giants? And what is their politics? What do they want and what are they willing to do to get what they want?
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and breastmilk

Like drinking coffee in the morning, I have this addiction to reading Lactnet, a listserve for lactation consultants. Although I still maintain my credentials as an IBCLC, I no longer practice this profession. Lactnet becomes a way of staying in touch with the issues of my profession. Which I guess means I really haven't quit the profession, maybe I am just on hold. One of the issues recently brought up was whether a mother should breastfeed when her milk tests positive for HPV. I am extremely fascinated by testing breastmilk because I think testing for the presence of a disease in human milk can give you a false impression. Since the mammary gland is an antibody factory, a living and dynamic production line designed to build the immune system of the next generation, it would seem logical to assume that one would find various bateria, viruses, fungi, etc. Does that mean that the breastmilk is contaminated? Infant formula would be considered to be contaminated, if it had pathogens in it. But why would we presume to believe that human milk is the same kind of substance as the dead food substance we call, infant formula?
Some years back a research paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine called, "Treaatment of Skin Papillomas with Topical Alpha-lactalbumin-Oleic Acid. It was a paper co-authored by Catharina Svamborg.
Svamborg has a number of patents on the human milk component, alpha-lactalbumin (HAMLET) at the US Patent & Trademark Office. These patents are owned by various pharmaceutical companies (Swedish, Danish companies). One patent in particular is about the use of the component to treat HPV. There are numerous articles on the web regarding the use of this human milk component to "destroy warts and fight cancer."
It would seem that some health care professionals will be treating HPV with a human milk component. And some health care professionals will be recommending that babies be removed from the breast because of the detection HPV in the breastmilk of the mother. Thus we will harvest human milk for the component to treat HPV but we will discourage women from breastfeeding. It seems to make sense to the health care community but from my perspective is just more nonsense. This is what was done regarding HIV. There are numerous patents on the use of various human milk components to treat HIV/AIDS owned by the infant formula industry (Nestle and Nutricia) and even the US Department of Health. So the belief seems to be that "one" human milk component (protein) can cure a disease but breastfeeding can only mildly protect an infant from pathogens. Of course, this has nothing to do with making money, does it? This is about science and health. I have been told by various people in the breastfeeding community that patents have nothing to do with reality. We don't need to discuss it because it is not about present day reality. So the blinders stay on, women are continually discouraged from breastfeeding because of one reason or another. Meanwhile, the corporate world quietly, legally is planting their "flags" on various proteins made by the human mammary gland. Should we be surprised that fewer women are breastfeeding or breastfeeding exclusively? I guess so. Heaven forbid we open the door to the forbidden topic of patents, and ownership of human milk and its components. Odd this world....
Copyright 2009 Valerie W. McClain