Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Similac Ad and the Tobacco Industry: Similar Marketing Strategies

"We think we should start not by raising barriers, but by lowering our voices.  We think smokers and non-smokers can work out their differences together in a spirit of tolerance and fairness and respect for each other's rights and feelings."
--RJ Reynolds 1986 from Strategies of the Tobacco Industry by Larry Breed


"I was interested to read the descriptive names and phrases used to describe those involved in the anti-tobacco movement.  They are 'zealots,' 'anti-smoking agitators,' 'health campaigners,' 'tobacco prohibitionists,' 'overzealous do-gooders' and 'busybodies.'"  Strategies of the Tobacco Industry

"Tobacco's message is free choice."  Strategies of the Tobacco Industry

If the Similac Ad was instead an ad for a specific brand of cigarettes, what would we see and hear?  What music would be in the background?  I envision that it would be Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. My feet start tapping to the beat and the words drift through my mind..."Billie Jean is not my careful of who you love  and be careful of what you do cause the lie becomes the truth."

 I see the playground and the players:  the smokers, and then we see the zealots. The do-gooders pushing through the swings.  "Look,the Tobacco police are here!"  If only smokers and non-smokers would get along because after all this is about civil liberties and free choice.  It's not about health.  It's about choice.  There is no proof that cigarette smoke cause human disease.

All the smokers and non-smokers in my imagined ad start a verbal "rumble." Who's right and who's wrong?  Just as this verbal war reaches a crescendo to the tune of Billie Jean, a smoker accidently drops her lit cigarette into an overflowing trash can.  The trash can ignites and suddenly everyone races to the trash can and together they put the fire out.  See, simple if we would all get along, our problems would be solved!!  

Then across the screen our new mantra is unveiled and the soft soothing background music--the music we hear at the grocery store to keep us soothed and buying-buying.  "No matter what our beliefs, We are people first."   Yep...I believe I believe...we are people!!  

In stark black and white we see the "Brand," the cigarette product doctor's and hospital's recommend.  And then under the "Brand" is #Peoplehood Unite.  

Should we honestly believe that the infant formula industry has no strategy? They are playing the Tobacco Industry playbook.  The playbook that reinforces the self-esteem of the people who are using their product while scapegoating advocates who consider their product a health risk.  This particular ad establishes the credibility of the company as fair players.  Its a playbook we need to understand.  And it's why we absolutely need the WHO Code to regulate the marketing of infant formula.
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain


Monday, January 26, 2015

Escaping MotherHood and joining the SisterHood

PATENT #8802650 "Methods of using human milk oligosaccharides for improving airway respiratory health."  filed in December 2011 owned by Abbott Laboratories. The patent states:

"The HMO [Human Milk Oligosaccharide] or HMOs may be isolated or enriched from milk(s) secreted by mammals including but not limited to human, bovine, ovine, porcine, or caprine species."  [also may be manufactured by microbial fermentation and/or chemical processes]

"Furthermore, the use of HMOs in nutritional compositions can reduce the growth of respiratory viruses (e.g. RSV, human parainfluenza virus type 2, and influenza A virus), and thus, reduce viral-induced upper respiratory infections.   As such, by utilizing HMOs, alone or in combination with other immune enhancing factors, in a nutritional product, such as an infant formula, it is now possible to provide infants with an alternative, or supplement, to breast milk that closely mimics the benefits thereof."  

Hm...should we ask Abbott Laboratories (manufacturer of Similac) how it is that Human Milk Oligosaccharides can be found in the milks of cows, chickens[correction sheep-ovine is sheep--sorry], pigs or monkeys?  Yes human milk oligosaccharides are found in human milk but how is human milk oligosaccharides produced by other mammals?  Genetic engineering?

This patent is almost as strange as the "Similac" Ad that some people are writing about and watching on you tube.  The ad is Abbott's promotion campaign called, "sisterhood of motherhood."  This is a you tube video to end the "Mommy Wars."  Ironic, if you believe as I do, that the Mommy Wars was a public relation campaign brought to you by Similac. 

As we watch the video, we find ourselves in the Hood, the realm of "mommies" and stay-at-home daddies.  The scene takes place at a playground.  We see mommies everywhere:  sitting on benches with their babies strapped to their bosoms, striding through the park pushing strollers like their are weapons of war, mothers bottlefeeding, mothers breastfeeding in their hooter hiders, lesbian mothers, working mothers, and stay-at-home fathers cooking hot dogs while taking care of their babies.  

We are in the Hood.  The music brings us back to the place we want to escape from--the Hood or is it MotherHood?  Like so many people stuck in the ghetto of lost desires, we subliminally accept this message.  We are at war with each other and ourselves.  Mothering has become a battleground in which we all struggle to escape. The battle fronts are clearly seen as mothers march through the park.  The first words spoken in this music video are from the formula feeding mothers, "Oh look the Breast Police have arrived."  We see the breastfeeding mothers pushing through the empty swings.  One breastfeeding mother angrily shakes her breast towards the formula feeding mothers.  One breastfeeding mom states that those who don't breastfeed are, "too lazy to breastfeed."  Who do we sympathize with in this video?  It appears to me that the breastfeeding moms are the bullies of this Hood.  Most women would hate to be perceived as bullies and most women are brought up to not be aggressive on our playground called life.  Will the audience sympathize with these breastfeeding moms?

The video ends with the name Similac against a black background and the slogan, "Sisterhood Unite."  Similac is a brand of formula, the company that manufactures this particular brand is Abbott Laboratories.  I have read comments by various moms who mix this up, believing that there is a Similac company who sells Similac formula.  After watching the video I understand why Abbott is doing this.  Using the brand name of the formula rather than the company name means that more product is sold.  The company name is not as important as the name of the product they are selling. Abbott Labs is a huge well-known pharmaceutical company with no need to keep their name in your brain. 

At the end of the video, the music becomes softer as everyone chases the baby in the runaway stroller.  They all save the baby, and they all start hugging each other.  What a creative and easy solution to the "supposed" mommy wars.  Life just isn't that simple.  Solutions to problems in real life take longer than a few minutes of running downhill.  The video ends with the mantra, "No matter what our beliefs, We are parents first."  What does this really mean?  I know a lot of religious parents who would say that their faith comes first, before their parenting.  Usually we start out with a set of beliefs about parenting prior to our first child and that is often refined and even changed once we actually parent.  The mantra Similac uses is really devoid of understanding of the complexity of human conflict.  Does parenting unite us?  Or, is it just as likely to divide us?

 I have begun to imagine a Father Similac, the parent figure to us all. He comes to our rescue, quoting scripture from the book of corporate values.  The price of going along with corporate values is to ignore some uncomfortable truths, to stay silent in order to keep the peace.  Peace at any price...where have I heard that before? 
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Commercialization of Human Milk--Part 2

"Indigenous  peoples worldwide are now at the forefront of a new wave of scientific investigation:  the quest for monopoly control of genetic resources that will be useful in new pharmaceuticals, nutriceuticals and other bio-engineered products."  by Debra Harry, Executive Director of the Indigenous People's Council on Biocolonialism, in 2001.


In 1990 Dr. Ivan Casas (who would later become Research Director of BioGaia of Sweden/USA- a company that markets and sells probiotics) went looking for a strain of Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri) that could be commercialized.  It is quite probable that the interest in L. reuteri derived from the observation that this bacterium produced a substance called reuterin,a broad-spectrum antibiotic. With increasing antibiotic resistance, a natural occurring antibiotic, would be a great discovery, as well as of great financial interest.  In Peru he found the strain he was looking for in the breastmilk of Indians from villages high in the Andes.  He had examined breast milk from mothers in the USA as well as South American mothers in Lima Peru and had not found this particular strain.  Whether these Indian mothers from the Andes were direct descendents of the Inca or Arawak, I do not know.  But who would have believed that the milk that these women donated would contain a bacteria that would become very popular as a supplement for infants and children, as well as adults.  It would also become known as Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis, and BioGaia in 2012 would sell the rights of its patent for use in infant formula to Nestle.  "BioGaia received EUR 40 million up-front and a commitment to a further EUR 10.8 million during the period 2014 to 2017 upon achievement of certain milestones."

Initially this strain of bacteria from human milk was deposited at the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) as Lactobacillus reuteri SD 2112 but later given the number ATCC 55730In 2007 it was replaced and became Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938.  According to Biogaia literature, the strains ATCC 55730 and DSM 17938 are "considered comparable in all aspects of probiotic function."  The only difference is that DSM 17938 no longer carries the two plasmids that carried resistance to tetracycline and lincomycin.  The original ATTC 55730 had these plasmids that carried antibiotic resistance.

According to the ATCC the Lactobacillus reuteri that was isolated from human milk is connected to patent #7344867,  This patent is entitled, "Selection and use of lactic acid bacteria for reducing inflammation in mammals." filed in 2005, invented by Eamonn Connolly who was the Senior VP for Research at BioGaia, and patent inventor to quite a few other patents owned by BioGaia.  Eamonn Connolly is now Head of Research and Development at Infant Bacterial Therapeutics AB of Sweden, a subsidiary of BioGaia.  He also is one of the authors of a recent paper published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene entitled, "A Phase One Safety Study of Lactobaciluus reuteri Conducted in the Peruvian Amazon:  Observations from the Field,"  published 2/10/2014.  The was a phase one trial under the FDA Investigative New Drug program.  Forty-five healthy adults received either L.reuteri DSM 17938 or a placebo.

Thus the bacterium from the breastmilk of Peruvian Indian mothers of the Andes lives on and on.   And breastfeeding mothers and infant formula feeding mothers around the world will use and benefit from the donated milk/bacterium of Peruvian Indian mothers.  And a few companies will financially benefit from "their invention."  And people will continue to believe that the commericalization of human milk has not happened yet.  I find it fascinating that one of those industries that benefits from this kind of invention is the infant formula industry and particularly that it is Nestle.  If moms make the choice to not breastfeed, then industry will make sure moms get the human milk component equivalent to the real thing.   Don't ask questions about these kind of inventions.  Don't ask about ethics regarding donating human milk (breastmilk is often called white blood-the collection of white or red blood is often about collecting DNA) for research. But the next time you dose your infant or child with this particular probiotic or give the infant formula with Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis, say a little prayer of thanks to the Indian women of the Andes!
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain