Monday, September 22, 2008

Chinese infant formula tragedy, Milk Protein Concentrates and globalization

photo by Jesse McClain, sunrise in paradise

The media blitz of the 2008 Olympic Games in China was overwhelming. I felt somewhat caught up in the fanfare and hopes of some fabulous athletes from around the world. So it is with great irony that it seems that the infant formula tragedy that was onfolding was covered up because of the Olympics. Tragedy compounded upon tragedy. We, who are living on the other side of the world, feel somewhat untouched by it. Legally Chinese infant formula cannot be sold in this country. And according to the FDA, they have been reassured that no ingredients that goes in US infant formula is made in China.
So we distance ourselves from the tragedy. It couldn't happen here. We are safe, everything is inspected.
Sanlu Group of China is the name of the infant formula that seems to have been mostly effected by the contamination, but other Chinese infant formulas were contaminated. A massive recall of many Chinese infant formulas has increased the sales of imported brands of formula, such as Mead Johnson, Wyeth, etc. A number of people have been arrested because it is believed that the formula was watered down first and then melamine (a plastic resin) was used to artificially boost the protein levels in order to pass inspection. Fonterra, who owns 43% of Sanlu and is one of the largest dairy cooperatives in the world, has claimed that this was sabotage. They, too, had to issue a recall on a powdered milk for pregnant women called Anmum.
I was somewhat startled by the fact that Fonterra was so involved in dairying in China as well as manufacturing of milk powder. New Zealand Milk Products is part of the marketing arms of Fonterra. New Zealand Milk Products has a division in the USA. Coincidently, I remembered an infant formula patent called, "Powdered human milk fortifier," that mentioned that it would get its casinates, whey, hydrolyzed caseinates , hydrolyzed whey, milk products, and mineral enriched proteins from New Zealand Milk Products of California.
That got me reading about something called Milk Protein Concentrates (MPC)...used in processed cheeses and in the infant formula industry. According to some US dairy organizations MPCs are not recognized as food and the FDA does not inspect them. MPCs have been used as glues and in the fabric industry. The US imports MPCs. They are not tariffed. I did not write down the metric tons of this product that come into this country but we import alot and it is an ingredient of infant formula. American farmers feel that it has a direct financial impact on them. For some background:

According to a Cornell University dairy workshop, the US is Fonterra's largest economic partner. So it is a small world. We are a global community. Our food passes from one country to another. Many companies use ingredients from other countries. Infant formula feeding is part of our global economy, its safety and value marketed by huge industries who make billions. One would suppose after this tragedy, that governments would make a bigger effort to promote breastfeeding. Yet much of the news releases say nothing about breastfeeding, its protective value. Breastfeeding is each country's national treasure, a child's rightful inheritance of health and safety from this all too cruel world.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Friday, September 19, 2008

Masks, mirrors, and gold

photo by Jesse McClain, New Smyrna Beach sunrise
Loreena McKennitt in "Marrakesh Night Market" sings, "Would you like my mask? Would you like my mirror?" and later, "The truth is measured by the weight of your gold." The sounds and the words seem to directly play to my mood. I feel a little lost, what world is this? Where nothing is as it seems? How did I get to this place where it is a marketer's masquerade ball? Where everyone knows what is going on but me? I think back to all that has happened to me and my sense of confusion. And I realize that when I start to feel confused, it is because I am being told lies, stories to suit the whim of the teller or the organization. In 2005, I was kicked off Lactnet for comments made in a post about Thomas Hale's book being marketed by Abbott. Everything I said was twisted and sandwiched in the imaginary words of reading "between the lines." I reread that post the other day and I am still struck by the craziness of the accusations and how quickly I was booted off that all so public listserve for lactation consultants. It was done in silence, no one publicly said I was kicked off. No one seemed to notice. Funny how it is around this time that Medela was trying to patent their human milk fortifier in Europe. On Lactnet human milk component patenting became a forbidden topic in 2004 and then I was kicked off quietly and quickly in 2005. Mere coincidence? Of course, let's put on our masks and put up the mirrors.
Silence regarding the patenting of human milk components says alot about breastfeeding advocacy. Having an ethical tenet requiring IBCLCS to respect patenting says it even louder. I do finally get it. The majority of people in breastfeeding advocacy support patenting of human milk. Why else this push to sell human milk banking to mothers--lactivism. While lactivism is defined by Wikipedia as breastfeeding activism, one might want to note that alot of lactivism seems centered on funding/supporting human milk banking. I support human milk banking but I don't support it in the present atmosphere of patenting components or the broad claims on something called human milk "compositions." While the infant formula industry puts their claims on various components of human milk, companies like Medela and Prolacta make claims on all of human milk. How do you judge that? Thank you Nestle and Wyeth for only taking small parts of human milk and claiming it as yours? And thank you Medela and Prolacta for claiming you own whatever composition you make up? Medela compromised and stated that some of their claims could be bovine, too. So its all one big grab bag. Breastfeeding advocates believe that this doesn't stop women from breastfeeding. No it only stops women from making a living from selling their milk, they cannot commercialize the product their bodies make, only Nestle or Wyeth or Medela or Prolacta. Yes, let's continue to donate to the enrichment of the corporation. For donating your milk, we may let you breastfeed in public. Let the masquerade ball begin....
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Mark, "Got Breastmilk?"

photo by Jesse McClain
One would think that the ownership of the trademark (mark). "Got Breastmilk?" by the California Milk Processor Board (which is the PR group that represents such companies as Dean Foods and Nestle) would make blogging news or at the very least should make news with breastfeeding advocates. anyone out there? Only in the PR world, would such news rocket through the blogging world, going viral, going viral, gone viral. But hm, reality doesn't go viral....silence. This is not what the "company" wants to project: a PR campaign creates retaliation. Nope. No talk, more silence. Reality on the internet, it doesn't exist, its just a PR game and we don't even know the players. Maybe we should call it "mothers of invention." Oops can't say might be a trademark. I started reading about the California Milk Processor Board and how much money they collect from California Dairy Farmers (a few millions) and somehow they seem to have quite a bit of money to play with for "advertising." I am hoping to order a T-shirt from them that has all those cute little cows and says "got breastmilk?" Maybe the T-shirt with the California Real Dairy seal of approval (Real Dairy--Nestle but the seal of approval is a PR campaign for the California Milk Processors Board) and "Got Breastmilk?" How about the Nestle patent called "Osteoprotegerin in milk." (EP1757619 and US patent application # 20050288219) Inventors are Karine Vidal et al. The abstract in part states, "The present invention pertains to osteoprotegerin obtainable from a milk source, in particular human and bovine milk." This component will be used for bone remodeling and to boost immunity. Hm...tell me again why premmies don't get enough calcium from human milk? Meanwhile Nestle will patent a component of human milk that builds/remodels bones. Oh, I forgot advocates for breastfeeding don't want to hear about this nor do they have the need to question how Nestle so easily got human milk and are able to patent off it. La-dee-dum....questioning is bad...don't ask questions. If we want companies to be transparent, don't ask questions. Yes, ethics is a game, throw the dice and which player wins? I am afraid moms and dads are the real losers in this game of chance.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trademark ownership of "Got Breastmilk?" and PR promotion

photo by Jesse McClain, sunrise
On September 9, 2008 the California Milk Processor Board filed for the trademark, "Got Breastmilk?" Two registrations: #77565484 and 77565459. Written on the registrations are, "G & S: promoting awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies." The California Milk Processor Board which in reality represents the food/dairy industry--Dean Foods, Nestle, etc--now has registered this trademark. Of course the legal questions are when did they ever use this trademark and do they ever plan to use it? Does the Trademark Office really believe that the Dairy Industry is promoting awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding? Do they really believe that the Dairy Industry plans to create goods and services that promote breastfeeding?
I hope that people will read Jennifer Laycock's response to my comments yesterday. Jennifer wrote, "What is the motivation for a company to operate with openess and transparency when someone with no facts to back them up can introduce questions and accusations like you have?
The motivation for a company to operate with openeness and transparency is called ethics. Ethics means that you willingly answer questions and respond to accusations. What Jennifer seems to be implying is that asking questions will make companies less transparent. And what company are we talking about?
I believe that many talented and gifted women donate their services to organizations, like Jennifer does for the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition. The problem as I see it, is that being part of the PR industry, known to make and shape the public viewpoint, could cause a number of people to wonder about the organizations they represent. Is "all the world a stage?" What is the reality? We are so very critical of the PR put out by the infant formula and dairy industries. Are we doing the same thing? And why? Do we have so little faith in breastfeeding's ability to sell itself? Do we have to social market/sell breastfeeding to the public? Whose version of a breastfeeding society is being marketed? Is it an industry viewpoint (as in Medela or Prolacta), a non-profit organization's viewpoint, one particular group's viewpoint, or a personal viewpoint that gets marketed to the public? Who has the power and/or money to get their viewpoint marketed? These are important questions. But I fear in the society we now live in, this is all swept under the table. No questions, just faith that what is going on is reality. I frankly don't know what to believe or who to believe. And you know what I don't think I am alone in that assessment.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The PR Game

photo by Jesse McClain "Sunrise New Smyrna Beach"
I've been reading a fascinating book called, "Toxic Sludge is Good For You!" by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. At one point in the book they write about how Nestle in 1980 hired Rafael Pagan and Jack Mongoven to manage the image of Nestle because of the Nestle Boycott. They developed dossiers on groups-clergy, labor unions, etc supportive of the boycott. The boycott ended in 1984 but in 1989 the boycott was renewed. Nestle then hired "Ogilvy and Mather Public Relations to develop a strategy called 'proactive neutralization,' which included plans to monitor Nestle's critics..." The back cover of this book explains what this book is all about, "This book names names and reveals how public relations wizards concoct and spin the news, organize phony 'graassroots' front groups, spy on citizens, and conspire with lobbyists and politicians to thwart democracy." I highly recommend reading this book to get a good understanding of the PR Game. Should we be shocked that Medela has hired Ogilvy Public Relations? Ogilvy and Mather and Ogilvy Public Relations are part of one huge company.
To my surprise the other day, I realized that there are many players in the PR Game. Jennifer Laycock, of the lactivist blog, is hailed at one website as "Marketer of the week-Jennifer Laycock Unleashed." They ask, "Your biggest disaster? That would have to be my Bento Yum experiment. I was writing an article series based on a hobby site and the community discovered I was a marketer and turned on me like rabid dogs."
Jennifer teaches a workshop on "viral marketing and link baiting." She was a guest blogger in a discussion on , "Church Marketing Sucks."
Now my question is, who hired her to do the lactivist blog? Who? Prolacta? Medela? A non-profit breastfeeding organization? Shouldn't we be happy that we, too, have our own PR people? Which story to believe? Is the big story of "Got breastmilk" a fabrication? Is the California Milk Processor Board really going after someone in Alaska for using the "Got Milk" trademark? AT the US Patent & Trademark Office the trademark was filed in1993 and states "No claim is made to the exclusive right to use 'milk' apart from the mark as shown." (trademark #1903879) The California Milk Processor Board owns the trademark and a man named Jeff Manning, a PR man was board director for some time (no longer). Manning is credited with the slogan, "Got Milk." While the California Milk Processor Board seems to represent dairy farmers, its board seems to represent Dean Foods, Nestle, etc.) So is this one PR stunt versus another PR stunt? How do you get to the truth? There is the rub.....Obviously, we are a society that loves our lies. We don't demand the truth from our politicians, our non-profit organizations, and we definitely don't demand that corporations tell the truth.
When I tried to sign up at various "lactivist" private group internet discussions a few years ago, I was refused permission to be on those group lists. I felt very offended. But now I understand. Lactivism seems to have started out as a PR stunt. Where does the truth reside when everyone is playing this game? Does it serve breastfeeding promotion? Or do we get lost in the subterfuge, the lies, and the games?
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Words, just words

Medela is defined in wikipedia as a "breast pump company" and also "a fossil genus of spiders in the family Philodromidae." I always wondered what medela meant and now I know. I thought at one time that the breast pump company must be owned by someone named Medela.
I like spiders and the webs they weave. Outside my window the Golden Orb spider spins her web, thick and yellow. I have gotten entangled many a time in its web and everytime a sense of panic overcomes me. I find myself hopping on one foot, tearing at the yellowy strings , and getting more and more panicked. Yet, I like spiders and I am fascinated by them. Entanglements....
Medela, the breast pump company, seems to have spun a web of entanglements in the breastfeeding advocacy community. I spent this morning looking at various breastfeeding organizations in various states and lots of them list Medela as a "resource." One website I looked at listed Medela as a "professional resource." One website listed Medela as a resource but there were no other companies/businesses listed only non-profit organizations. Strange, how these websites don't see Medela as a business, a manufacturer, a maker of breastpumps and accessories. When I read the JHL (Journal of Human Lactation) some years ago, Medela often had the whole back cover...advertisement??? resource????
I have been told they still advertise in this LC professional journal. Not all professional journals accept such advertising. It is difficult to exist without it. How many Conferences, educational gathering has Medela funded or partly funded? How many organizations have been gifted with products from Medela? I know years ago that La Leche League had a breast pump program that helped leaders give pumps to those who needed them but couldn't afford them. We, in breastfeeding advocacy, are surrounded and enveloped by their generosity. How many IBCLCs owe their economic survival to Medela? But we are also ensnared at the same time. Caught by this generosity, how do we view our world, our entanglements? Medela is no longer a business out to make a profit, it is our educational resource, our professional resource. Words, just words...
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

More on Medela

Besides the patent at the European patent office and application at the US Patent Office, Medela has patent applications for "Human milk fortifiers and methods for Their production," at the World Intellectual Property Organization WO2006/026878 and at the Australian Patent Office #2005282182. One would think this be a cause for alarm in breastfeeding organizations and breastfeeding advocacy communities, but silence reigns supreme.
I think after 9 years of beating my head against the wall, I finally get it. It's called: "We don't care, we don't know, it doesn't matter, and this doesn't mean anything." Corporations love the silence because a population silenced is a good and captive audience. So onward with life as the corporate world plays the game. Patents? Who cares? So what that Medela and Prolacta have put claims on human milk? This is promotion of human milk. Yes, we IBCLCs are acknowledging their claims because life in the USA is about owning property. Ownership is power. Patents are ownership. Patents are about the right to exclude others from using their property. Patents are monopolization. Let's here it for corporate life and our media manipulators.
Yes, "Business Backs Breastfeeding." Thank you Abbott Nutrition. Thank you Medela. Thanks to the Working Mother Media for "helping women discover the joy of working motherhood every day." Thanks to the corporate world, mothers know their place in society. Be joyful at work, motherhood is wonderful when you join the corporate ladder of success. Medela hired Ogilvvy Public Relations, so the public will know their relations. Ogilvvy also has contracts with the US Government (regarding medicare and medicaid, letting the public know what the government wants them to know). I think at one time Nestle used Ogilvvy. Brave New World, its looking mighty old to me and not so brave.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Monday, September 8, 2008

Medela's patent withdrawn in 2007

The Medela patent EP1637043 at the European Patent Office on a human milk fortifier was withdrawn in 2007 because the examination fee was not paid on time. The navigation of the European patent office website is very complex and I just found that particular information this morning. Of course that still leaves the patent application at the US Patent Office (and the possibility that a patent or application exists at the Australian Patent Office). To view patents at the European Patent Office:
To view patents or applications (Medela application on human milk fortifer #2008187619)at the US Patent Office website:
One of the claims on the European patent state that a component in the human milk fortifier might be bovine. Hence my belief that in order to produce such fortifier it would have to be licensed out to the infant formula industry.
Human milk fortified or designed by companies is what?? Human milk?? When it competes with breastfeeding (as has happened with preterm infants), should the companies be absolved of the WHO Code because some or one of the components are human milk? Do breastfeeding advocates believe that because it contains some human milk, it is getting us closer to a breastfeeding society? Or, are designer human milks actually 10 steps away from breastfeeding? Do these questions seem like they are not relevant to the present situation? The future is far closer to us, than we like to believe. If time and energy is not devoted to this shifting perspective of infant feeding, then we will certainly see breastfeeding become a thing of the past. Designer human milk engineered especially for your baby! Impossible you say......who would think cloned milk and meat would be on our dinnertable in 2008? But there you are, our reality is melting like the polar ice caps into a sci-fi comic strip.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

Friday, September 5, 2008

Medela's Human Milk Fortifier European Patent

Medela own's a European patent EP1637043 called "Human Milk Fortifiers & methods for their production." The inventors are Peter Hartmann et al. They also own a US patent application #20080187619 entitled with the same name and the inventors the same. This patent and its USA application seems to be making claims on components directly or indirectly derived from human milk. Thus Medela, well-known, respected breast pump company has now entered into the field of transforming breastmilk into an acceptable liquid for use with preterm infants. The question is will Medela manufacture this specialized human milk? Or will they license it out? Who has the facilities? Prolacta is already in that business and Medo owns a patent application on a standardized human milk for use in human milk fortification. So it seems very unlikely that Prolacta would be a part of this venture. It would seem far more likely that this venture will be licensed out to one of the infant formula companies.
While some might feel this endeavor--human milk fortification-- is supporting breastfeeding, I do not believe it is supportive of breastfeeding. We are already witnessing Medela's disregard of the WHO Code regarding bottles and bottle nipples. It would seem logical, particularly if they license this patent out to an infant formula maker (possibly more than one infant formula company) that the disregard would become even greater.
The need for a human milk fortifier for preterm infants is based on research that was mostly paid for by the infant formula industry. If a premise is based on monetary interests, might it be imperative that independent research revisit the question? Part of the problem of feeding human milk to premature infants is the plastic feeding tubes--the fat of human milk adheres to the tubing causing losses in energy, protein, etc. Nestle's answer to this problem is to add lecithin to human milk. I have a simpler answer to the problem. How about letting mothers of preterm infants breastfeed their babies? I recognize this is dependent on the stability of the premature infant and also whether the premature infant is younger than 34 weeks gestion. But the emphasis in US hospitals is to get moms pumping (important) but vastly more important is infant/mother contact through breastfeeding (or attempts at breastfeeding) in the hospital setting. When I worked in the WIC Program (1994-1998) breastfeeding mothers of preterm infants often had little to no breastfeeding within the confines of the NICU. I am hopeful that has changed. The emphasis was on pumping and it seems to me that even now the main emphasis is pumping and storing milk. Fortifiying the milk means to many moms that their own milk is not adequate. Thus the fortification of human milk in the early days, sets up the belief in the inadequacy of breastfeeding to sustain the growth of the infant once it goes home from the hospital. Is this really a truth? Or is part of the problem of preterm human milk caused by the inadequacy of feeding infants by artificial means--the plastic tubes, the bottles, the pumps?
We are poised at the beginning of a new industry, the human milk industry. What makes breastfeeding advocates believe that this endeavor will support breastfeeding? The basis of this industry is about the inadequacy of human milk. Thus this new industry will manipulate it to the tune of the infant formula research that shows that preterm human milk is inadequate. Is this the truth?
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain