Sunday, December 8, 2013

The struggle for control of donor human milk

Indeed, who shall control a world's natural resource, human milk?  Women?  The US Department of Health?  HMBANA (the North American non-profit milk banking organization)?  Prolacta Bioscience or Medolac (the US for-profit milk banks)?  And what about the global internet milk sharing organizations like Eats on Feets or HM4HB (Human Milk for Human Babies)?  What role does the internet milk sharing organizations play in the battle for human milk?  Are women selling their milk through the internet (which is not what the internet milk sharing organizations are about)?  And how is this struggle for control tied to the social marketing of donor milk?

I cannot answer all these questions because sometimes we don't know the truth of a matter until much later in time.  Events aren't always clear as they are happening.  And even when we have the grace of retrospection, we can be blind by our own prejudices.  In a society governed by the profit motive and the need to own and control a resource, there is a blindness to the reality that nothing ultimately can really be owned.  That natural resources are a gift to all the people on this earth.  They are here to be shared not to be squandered, pillaged, and raped by corporate or individual greed.

Recently, it has come to my attention that New Jersey Assemblywoman, Pamela R. Lampitt has introduced two bills to the New Jersey Assembly.  Assembly Bill 3703 which provides licensure of human milk banks and Assembly Bill 3702 which establishes a "public awareness campaign advising pregnant women, new parents, and women who are breastfeeding about dangers of casual milk sharing."  (November 25, 2013 reported out of Committee, 2nd reading)

Part of the proposed bill is on licensure of human milk banks, "Any person who operates a human milk bank that does not have a license, or who has used fraud or misrepresentation in obtaining a license or in the subsequent operation of a human milk bank, or who offers, advertise, or provides any service not authorized by a valid license, or who violates any other provision of this act shall be subject to a penalty of not less than $100 or more than $1000..."  I was told that this penalty is not directed at mothers sharing human milk but directed at human milk banks.  Curious to me.  Since I don't think too many people or persons are starting up human milk banks in New Jersey.  And having recently read a slew of media reports on how the "booming demand for donated breast milk raises safety issues," with interviews of people involved with HMBANA and people involved with internet milk sharing organizations;  I found myself rather curious about the reason for this legislation.  So how is human milk banking defined in this legislation?  It is defined as, "an organized service for the selection of a donor and the collection, processing, storage, and distribution of donated human breast milk to a hospital for use by low birth weight babies or new mothers with delayed lactation, or directly to a parent, with a physician's prescription order, who is unable to nurse, or is in need of additional breast milk to feed, the parent's child."  Is it possible that this definition might encompass the services of internet milk sharing organizations?  A recent article in the New Jersey spotlight entitled, "Websites for sharing breast milk raise concerns about health risks by Andrew Kitchenman (December 2, 2013)  interviews Dr. Sharon Mass, chairwoman of the New Jersey chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  The author writes, "However Mass said, women should use milk from licensed milk banks instead of using the unregulated milk-sharing sites.  'if it's not regulated and it's not licensed, then we have no idea about the quality or safety of that milk,' said Mass, ACOG's representative to the United States Breastfeeding Committee.

Kim Updegrove, President of HMBANA, "would like the government to simply, outlaw the internet milk trade.  This would steer would-be donors to the milk banks..."  This was stated in an interview on NPR, All Things Considered, November 27, 2013.   There has been this amazing amount of articles in November (from various places in the USA) reporting on the one study done in which "bought" human milk over the internet was "supposedly" contaminated with bacteria.  This study was done by at least one researcher from the HMBANA organization.  Which one might be concerned that there might be a level of bias in this particular study.   HMBANA has since the year 2000 (letter to FDA) stated that they want internet milk sharing/selling to be stopped.  I had not realized that there was internet milk sharing/selling back in the year 2000--other than some men having a fetish for human milk and wanting to buy some.  I also know that human milk researchers advertise in the media for human milk and pay for it.  But some human milk researchers (who are often funded by the infant formula industry) get donor milk from HMBANA (one of the organization's mission statements is promotion of research of human milk).  In years past HMBANA's advisory board was often human milk researchers who were funded by the infant formula industry.  I brought this up a number of times to breastfeeding advocates and the response was a lack of concern or the ever-endearing dead silence.  I think having researchers who are funded by the infant formula industry sitting in advisory boards to human milk banks is mighty short-sighted.  But I guess I am the only one who feels that way since there has never been a protest over this common practice.

I think it is a rather sorry state of affairs when donor milk banks feel the need to use the media to broadcast research that is dubious, that donor milk is disease-ridden, etc.  It plays quite nicely into the hands of the infant formula industry.  And is very destructive to creating a breastfeeding society. On the other hand I cannot support internet milk sharing organizations because the internet is just not community.  I support milk sharing with mothers who live in close proximity to each other.  Sharing locally or even selling locally makes more sense to me than believing that we truly know someone over the internet.  So I stand in the middle of what I perceive to be a war over a resource, human milk.  We have over 2000 US patents and applications on human milk components (some owned by the US Department of Health).  Many of those patents are owned by the infant formula industry, some by medical colleges who will license their inventions to companies, some by for-profit milk banks, and some by the pharmaceutical industry.  Is this really about the danger of a substance in the hands of private citizens?  Or is this about a battle over the ownership of a natural resource?  Frankly, I saw this coming back some years ago, I pleaded to be listened to, that something needed to be done.  Silence and more silence has been the overall response. If this bill passes and becomes law,  we will have a social marketing campaign by the NJ Department of Health telling mothers how disease-ridden and toxic donor milk is if shared or purchased by anyone but the State regulated milk banks.  How will we ever get women to breastfeed once they believe that the milk they produce and are willing to share freely is just some diseased and toxic substance, unworthy of consumption?  The fact is that human milk contains many treasured substances, one being stem cells with supposedly magical properties, magic bullets (as male researchers like to say because they target organs without damaging them--very important in cancer therapies).   Is this a legal battle of keeping the public safe?  Or is this about control of a natural resource?
Copyright 2013 Valerie W. McClain

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