Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Business of Human Milk-Based Products and the Destruction of Breastfeeding

"Hunger and malnutrition are man-made.  They are hardwired in the design of the industrial, chemical model of agriculture." --Vandana Shiva

Yesterday morning was just like any other morning.  I cruise the web, looking for news. Scanning the headlines I feel a sense of deja vu, a memory of being a pre-teen in the 60's sneaking a peak at a supermarket tabloid story in which a woman gives birth to an alien or finds out her husband is the Alien.  Well, I found some news yesterday that wasn't tabloid news.  But it sure had an alien feel.  It was Medolac Labs launching of "the first ever direct-to-consumer offering of human donor milk."  According to the article the product is, "commercially sterile, shelf-stable human donor milk, and easy-to-use as formula."

So now it will be possible for, "more babies to receive 100% human milk protein instead of bovine or soy protein formula."  Should we be calling this "human donor milk" or might the correct term be "human milk-based infant formula?"  Prolacta uses the term for its human milk-based infant formula and its products are registered at the FDA as Exempt Infant Formulas. 

While Medolac Labs are using human milk, can we call it "donor milk?"  Like Prolacta, they pay for it, at a $1/ounce.  So it isn't donated.  And it has to be a highly processed product in order to be shelf-stable for 3 years!  The press statement says that "it is as easy to use as formula."  Huh?  I have never believed that infant formula is easy to use.  Since this is a ready-to-feed product, the presumption is that it is quite simple.  Well, let's see, even with ready-to-feed formulas, bottles and nipples have to be cleaned/sterilized.  After opening, one has to know how long it can be kept in a refrigerator or whether it should be tossed after sitting out at room temperature.  There is time that must be devoted to this kind of feeding as well as knowledge of how to use the product safely.  There is often a time delay in bottlefeeding, babies may be hungry but mom has to prepare the bottle or at least go get the bottle. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is quite simple in comparison (once a mother gets over the early weeks, when difficulties are the most prevalent).  There are no need for bottles or pacifiers.  A breastfed baby gets an immediate response for its hunger cues.  There is no need for storage space for a product because a breastfeeding mother makes milk depending on infant demand (the more the baby nurses, the more milk is made).  There is no need for money for a product (making a mother independent of market forces).  And breastfeeding, gives the mother a number of physical gifts:  less breast and ovarian cancers, child spacing, no period for months, sometimes stretching into several years.  Infants receive the benefit of suckling at the breast:  appropriate jaw development and with that better dental health, less airway restrictions lowering the possible SIDs risk and actual physical contact with the mother (a biological norm--why we are called mammals).

Will our society buy into human milk-based products rather than the human commitment of breastfeeding?  We live in a technological money-driven world in which human commitment is into acquiring things.  Our importance in this world is dependent upon the house we live in, the car we drive, the jobs we have, our degrees/titles we accumulate and the clothes we wear.   Watching any TV ads or internet ads, creates the illusion that life without these things, these products isn't worth living.  We are judged and found wanting, if we don't have the latest cell phone or newest techno-gadget available.

How do we collect all these worldly goods?  We either have top-of-the-line jobs or we get ourselves into debt.  Look at the university student who graduates into the workforce with thousands of dollars of debt for their education.  Will their new job (if they get one) help them quickly pay off that debt?  Or will they find themselves in ever increasing debt and servitude with the need for a place to live and a car to drive?  Women get paid less than men for the same kinds of jobs.  Yet women who have college/university debt have the same amount of debt as men who have educational debt.  So paying off debt is far more difficult for women.  How many women nowadays can afford to stay home with their babies?  Between educational debt and medical debt (having a baby in the US can be a huge medical debt despite insurance), women are caught in a lose-lose situation.

There is the belief that the next best thing to breastfeeding is breast-milk feeding.  It is understood that when a mom pumps and gives that to her infant that it is better than infant formula.  But are human milk-based products equivalent to fresh, expressed milk?  Or as they claim, equivalent to pasteurized donor milks? Do we have the research that these products that have become sterile due to industrial processing are equivalent to the donor milk that is just simply pasteurized?  Obviously the product cannot be the same as the milk that is created in a woman's breast.  Yet we are to believe that a sterile, 3-year shelf stable human milk is a necessity?  Isn't breastfeeding the necessity?

Will this human milk industry be satisfied with just a few customers?  Or will this industry have a need for more and more customers?  Will this industry find more and more ways to curtail private milk sharing?  Will this industry eventual sabotage breastfeeding, in its need for profits?  And will the current economic and political climate that has made women second class citizens, create the need for these products? 

Women feel that their self-worth is tied to being employed, to making money.   Self-worth is not tied to mothering our babies.  Our society has created a world in which most of us are indentured to our employers because of our accumulated debts.  I am not sure how human milk-based products will play out in the years to come but I am pretty darn sure that breastfeeding will become lost in the sea of need for profits.

"The disclosure provides sterile human milk protein compositions.  In one embodiment the sterile human milk protein composition is prepared by a method comprising sterile filtering skim human milk through at least two successively smaller submicron filters to obtain a human milk protein composition, lyophilizing* the human milk composition, and applying a viral inactivation step and/or sterilizing process to the lyophilized human milk composition."
--WIPO** patent application WO/2012/030764, owned by Neolac, Inc. USA, inventor:  Elena Medo, entitled:  HUMAN MILK PREPARATION

*lyophilized-"freeze drying, the creation of a stable preparation of a biological substance by rapid freezing and dehydration of the frozen product under high vacuum."  from Medical Dictionary

**WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)-agency of the United Nations.

Will these patented products safeguard breastfeeding or become a waste of resources in which breastfeeding is sabotaged?  
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain

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