Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Bitter Pill of Human Milk Banking

Breastfeeding is the root of self-reliance.  It is like the farmer who saves his seeds year after year, not dependent on Monsanto or seed companies for survival.  A woman who breastfeeds without the aids of our breastfeeding technology (such as pumps, special bottle nipples (teats)/bottles, or other gadgets) is independent of our consumer-driven world.  Her infant determines her production, no other interventions or industry can interfere with that relationship.  She is in the economic driver's seat, financially beholden to no company.  Do we think that in our capitalist society that any industry would be satisfied with this kind of situation where the potential consumers, mother and baby, is independent, not needy of the toys and trinkets of this world?

Yes, the world of women, independent of our consumer-driven economy, seems to be unrealistic.  I know the usefulness of an electric pump and other breastfeeding gadgets that sometimes make breastfeeding easier.  Yet I see that the pump to be useful requires extra time for patient education; and without that education it has the potential to sabotage the breastfeeding relationshipUsing bottles of human milk is a step above the use of infant formula, yet it too can sabotage a mother's ability to breastfeed. Like any medical device, it can save ya (and certainly saves many premature babies) but it can create complications.  We often end up with breastmilkfeeding rather than breastfeeding.

I have always supported human milk banking, believing that every hospital that has birthing mothers needs a milk bank.  Why do I write a blog post about human milk banking being a bitter pill?  Quite simply, the game has changed without most breastfeeding advocates understanding that the game-plan has been quietly changed by the powerful influence of the infant formula and pharmaceutical industries.  These industries are often one and the same companies.  They are the invisible hands now involved in human milk banking.  They smell money to be made and the infant formula industry also recognizes that the long range picture of the public's perception of the safety of their product is crumbling.  Preparation for all contingencies is how some industries survive while others die.

I wrote a blog post this summer about the merging interests of the infant formula and human milk bank industries.

There is now more evidence through patent applications that these interests are increasingNestle has made 2 recent infant formula patent applications that suggest that components from human milk are being considered among other mammal milks:  such as bovine, buffalo, horse, or goat.  There is patent application 20120321600 entitled, "Infant Formula with Probiotics and milk fat globule membrane components," invented by Jalil Benyacoub et al.  Or patent application 20120219526 entitled, "Nutrition compositions comprising lactoferrin and probiotics and kits of parts thereof,"  invented by Petra Gerda Klassen et al.  So we wonder where will they get human milk fat or lactoferin? Well, it is interesting that Prolacta Bioscience, has on its Board of Directors, Ernie Strapazon, a former executive of Nestle.  He helped establish Nestle Nutrition in the USA and was President of Nestle, USA.  Although to be fair one of Prolacta's executive managers who is VP of their sales and marketing was employed by Mead Johnson.  And on their scientific advisory board there is Lars A. Hanson, winner of the 2004 Nutricia Foundation award. (Nutricia is a European infant formula company) And, of course there is the Prolacta and Abbott co-promotion agreement.  So Prolacta seems to have a smorgasboard of infant formula companies involved in their welfare or should we say economic survival?  So it may be reasonable to assume that at least here in the USA, the infant formula industry has its fingers in one company that collects donor human milk.  Of course, Nestle has always had its fingers in everything and its applications are non-specific in which mammal component they will use.  I guess it is to keep everyone guessing and wondering.

Of interest to me is the connection between HMBANA donor milk banks, researchers, and the infant formula industry.  I just recently ran across patent #8314061 entitled, "Adiponectin for treatment of various disorders," invented by Ardythe L. Morrow, Lisa J. Martin, and David S. Newburg.  The owners are the Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati, Ohio and the University of Massachusetts.  I imagine they will try to license this out and may have already done so, since Morrow has in the past received funding from Mead Johnson.  Although she has received alot more funding from the NIH (National Institute of Health).  This patent mentions that donor milk came from the Cincinnati Donor Milk Bank and from Mexico (research done there some years ago).  [Adiponectin is a human milk component--the patent also mentions that this can be of use in baby formulas]

A recent research paper in which Dr. Morrow was involved was funded by Mead Johnson.
"Cincinnati Children's Hospital is a collection site for the Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio in Columbus.  The MMBO, which is a service of the Grant Medical Center is a member of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America."
from website of Cincinnati Children's Center for Breastfeeding Medicine

At one web page blog post at Cincinnati Children's they explain milk banking.  They also write about the struggle of the HMBANA milk bank in Columbus to supply human milk to hospitals throughout Ohio.  Dr. Geraghty is quoted, "The milk isn't just for patients at Cincinnati Children's--it is available for use at all local area hospitals."   No mention that milk is used for reseach on this particular web page.  I presume when a potential donor mother signs up, she is thoroughly informed of their research program.  I can't quite envision them mentioning previous patenting on donor milk.  But I am rather concerned that it appears that this advertising for donor milk is not as informative to potential donors as I believe it should be.

So this is to me the bitter bill that human milk banking presents.  It does in fact save NICU babies but some of what women donate goes to research to make a better infant formula or a pharmaceutical.  Many breastfeeding advocates fully support human milk banking without question, and find my stance repugnant and destructive.  I find myself wondering why we don't look into the future ramifications of this new industry.  This research is about human milk not breastfeeding.  Its about using a component in a drug or in baby formula. Do we truly believe that the infant formula or pharmaceutical industries will market these new drugs or formulas without sabotaging breastfeeding?  Have these industries ever, ever played fair in regard to breastfeeding?  How aware are donor mothers about the potential use of their freely given milk?  Yes, some of it goes to infants in need and even adults in need.  But how much of this is going for self-serving economic speculation on the potential of human milk components?  Are mothers really being fully informed?  For me it is a bitter pill, that breastfeeding is so devalued in our society and yet the infant formula and drug companies are busily patenting on it.  Twenty years ago I had a dream of human milk banks in every city.  Now I look at it as a nightmare of capitalism.
Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain 



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