Saturday, May 17, 2014
Human Milk Infant Formula
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his
salary depends upon his not understanding it."--Upton Sinclair
Upton Sinclair wrote a book called, "The Jungle." I was taught in public school that this was a book about the horrors of the meatpacking industry during the early 1900s. It was a driving force in major reforms in the US meatpacking industry according to my school text book. I recently read that Upton Sinclair's point of the book was not the meatpacking industry but rather the tragedy of working class poverty. Sinclair felt that Americans were more concerned about what they ate than social injustice. I never read the book. Perhaps I will read it this year to get a better understanding of why people refuse to see the obvious and why people stay silent in the face of injustice rather than speak out.
The other day I ran across a news release from Prolacta BioScience, maker of standardized human milk products. They were announcing their first premature infant formula made from human milk. In the news release they state they will "meet the needs of hospitals that wish to provide exclusive human milk nutrition in the NICUs." They also mentioned the 2012 AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement that recommends, "all preterm infants receive human milk, whether their mother's own milk or, if mother's milk was unavailable pasteurized donor breast milk."
Well this makes some people happy. We now have a safer infant formula because it is made from human milk. I wonder how many people in our breastfeeding advocacy organizations feel this is a step in the right direction? The belief seems to be that it must be safer because it is made from human milk. And who will question this premise? Will there be clinical trials of this new infant formula? Or are we believing that since it comes from donor milks, there is no need to trial this new kind of formula? I call that belief system faith-based not science. We can call it a human milk product, but it is not the same substance that an infant gets at his/her mother's breast. Prolacta emphasizes that they are offering "standardized" human milk products. Human milk is not standardized. It is a unique substance that changes from hour to hour, day to day, month to month. Its life saving properties tied to a mammary gland that responds to the mother's local environment by creating antibodies to the pathogens in that environment. It is a dynamic, live substance. Do we think that human milk in a can will have these live substances in it, after it has been frozen and refrozen, pasteurized, and filled with additives? Is processed, convenience foods ever equivalent to a food that is fresh?
Okay how will the human milk industry that makes human milk in a can or aseptic box find enough donor human milk to create this infant formula? Well yes, they are just starting out and its only for preterm infants, so they won't need that much donor milk. Interesting that this new endeavor by Prolacta coincides with the HMBANA public relation campaign to stop mother-to-mother milk sharing. Mothers should only donate their milk to milk banks, preferably non-profit milk banks. Although HMBANA milk banks give/sell their donor milk to human milk researchers who patent and sometimes are connected to the infant formula industry. It also coincides with another public relation campaign entitled,"Milk Stroll" in the USA and Canada to raise funds for HMBANA milk banks and to encourage mothers to donate breast milk." The news articles also like Prolacta's news release mention the AAP statement regarding the recommendation that all preterm infants should receive human milk.
So what we have in the US and Canada is a huge public relation campaign to get mothers to donate their milk. Meanwhile Prolacta will be selling a human milk infant formula. Is there a connection between these events? It would appear that there is no connection. Yet there is what I would call a spill over effect of a public relation campaign. Mothers become more aware of donating their milk but they may not be aware of the differences in the various milk banks. Thus, a mom may donate her milk to a Prolacta milk bank because she is not aware of the differences between what Prolacta does and that of a non-profit milk bank. She has heard the message of donating milk loud and clear. And she has heard the message that it is dangerous to share milk with other mothers. Thus the human milk industry gains more ground because of the spill over effect of the non-profit human milk industries PR campaigns.
Are mothers who donate their breastmilk being given informed consent in regard to patenting of their milk? Do mothers know that some milk banks in the US and Canada are collecting donor milk to manufacture an infant formula? There are ethical and moral issues regarding donor milk banking that are not being addressed publicly. Silence has worked for many years regarding the patenting of human milk components. Continued silence means acceptance. There needs to be a public dialogue about the ethical and moral implications of creating a human milk products industry, patenting, and why silence is an unacceptable response.
Copyright 2014 Valerie W. McClain