Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Human milk: the science behind infant formula

We are told that the infant formula industry lies about its products that it markets. Do they lie? Is their any truth to their marketing of their products? We are told to boycott Nestle because they are the worst of the worst in violating the WHO Code. Yet in focusing on one company, the rest go unrecognized for their violations. Although in the USA, the WHO Code (the World Health Organization Code of regulating the "marketing" of breast milk substitutes, passed in 1981 by all nations except the USA) seems to be little understood or followed. ["no advertising to the public, no free samples, no promotion of products in health care facilities...all information on artificial feeding including labels, should explain the benefits of breastfeeding and the costs and hazards associated with artificial feeding" Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, second edition, by Riordan and Auerbach, page19] I hear the cynical laughter. Yeah in the USA we have hospitals giving out free samples of infant formula. Years ago I worked with a teen mom who was nursing her baby with no problems but needed me to explain why she was given a case of formula. She presumed that the medical profession was giving it to her because she was suppose to use it. She was quite relieved when I told her that her free case of formula was...well it was just marketing. She thought the free formula from the hospital was a diagnosis that breastfeeding was not enough for her baby. This kind of marketing is slowly dying out but women get alot of free formula through various outlets-doctor's offices, the internet, marketing lists, etc. Of course, the introduction of infant formula to a breastfeeding mother is often the path to weaning from the breast (production being dependent on nipple stimulation, feeding infant formula means baby is not at the breast). I am fascinated with part of the Code that states that the benefits of breastfeeding and costs/hazards of artificial feeding should be on all information and labels of artificial milks. I don't think I have seen this anywhere. Of course, if we are asking the industry to self-regulate then the information will be sparse and psychologically geared to put their product in the best position.
Let's go back to my first question, does the infant formula industry lie about their products? Is their partial truth to their claims about their formulas for babies? Some breastfeeding advocates claim its all lies. But I tend to view their marketing of their artificial milks being closer to human milk, as a half-lie/half truth. What breastfeeding advocates fail to understand is that human milk research is the basis of the infant formula industry. Many of the researchers who are members of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation (ISRHML) are funded by the infant formula or dairy industry. Some of the members are employed by the infant formula industry. A few years back I ran across a patent application from a member of the ISRHML that was of interest to me at that time because I was writing about human milk fortifiers (I believe it was a human milk fortifier patent owned by Abbott). One of the inventors was Bridget Barrett-Reis, who is no longer listed as a member of the ISRHML. I ran across another patent where she is listed as an inventor. It's called, "Infant formulas containing docosahexaenoic acid and lutein," patent #7829326 and owned by Abbott Labs.

"Lutein has also been identified in human milk."

"Although it is not currently added to infant formulas as an isolated ingredient..."

"It has now been found, however, that lutein concentrations in infant formula must be much higher than the lutein concentrations found in human milk in order to achieve the same plasma lutein concentrations found in breast fed infants due to a lower relative bioavailability of lutein from infant formula."

This patent was filed/applied for in October of 2006 and became a patent in November 2010. Of interest is that in Abbott Nutrition press release in September 2008, the company states in its summary facts that Similac Advance EarlyShield, "supports a baby's natural defenses and digestive health. It has important immunity building blocks similiar to those found in breast milk. Similac Advance EarlyShield is the only infant formula that has a unique blend of prebiotics, nucleotides and antioxidants-nutrients found in breast milk." Under antioxidants they state, "Antioxidants play important roles in the body. Similiac AdvanceEarlyShield has a unique blend of antioxidants including lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene found in breast milk and can help protect the eyes and skin."

Before this product became a patent, it was already on the market (for at least 2 years). Interesting. But I am amazed by the language written by the company. WHO Code violation? This was on the internet, an international community of readers. So the language suggests that the antioxidants placed in their formulas, are found in breast milk. Well, yeah, sort of....just a little language ambiguity.

"Similac® has EarlyShield®

In addition to having DHA/ARA, we're the only formula that has Lutein,* an important nutrient babies can only get from breast milk or Similac.†"

Stretching the truth, just a teensy little bit. You know marketing, a little truth mixed with a little lie=the big lie. Marketing 101 brought to you by the makers of our alternate reality....

Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

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