Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The illusion of a safer infant formula

We are a society that believes that infant formula is a safe substitute for not breastfeeding. We believe it because we are told to believe it. We are told that infant formula is only unsafe in developing countries. The safety of infant formula in developed nations, like the USA, is never questioned. When we look at infant mortality rates in the USA, we discover that it is the poor and black communities that have the highest infant mortality rates. (two-three times the rate of the white population) And not so surprisingly, we find that it is the poor and the black mothers who are the least likely to breastfeed their babies. The connection is there between how babies are fed and the infant mortality rates. But our society has chosen to use the power of public relations and place the issue of infant feeding as one of women's liberation and choice. We cannot tell women that their "choice" will lead to an infant's increased risk of disease and death. Who would believe that anyway? Women don't need prescriptions to buy infant formula but they do need prescriptions to buy donor milk. Death certificates do not say that a baby died from lack of breastmilk. They die from various diseases: pneumonia, septicemia, SIDS, gastroenteritis, diarrhea. And who would believe that breastmilk would prevent that from happening? Well, maybe parents need to read a few patents written by the infant formula industry to understand what the industry knows about human milk. The industry knows that infant formula is a risk for all infants. It is the basis for the continuous quest for a safer infant formula. That quest over the years, has resulted in infants being the guinea pigs to a variety of synthetic substances. It has resulted in a number of deaths and injuries because we do not truly understand the limitations of infant formula. Nor do we seem to understand that not all infants can tolerate those synthetic variations. Yet, we continue onward with this quest for a fake breastmilk. Now we have genetic engineering and the quest is intense because it is coupled with the belief that genetic engineering can duplicate the real substance. Duplicate? Or is it just another synthetic imitation? What will the future hold for those infants sustained on substances created by the corporate world?
We are spending enormous sums of money on the creation of a safer infant formula. We are using up water, oil, electricity, air quality to create an unnecessary food product. And to top that waste of resources, we dump the containers and plastic pieces used for that product in landfills. Yet our society is convinced that women want to escape the prison of breastfeeding and have a choice in how a baby is fed. But what if choice is just a public relations scam by the corporate world who wants to make profits. What if choice is just a way to obtain cheap labor (poor women's wages are always lower than poor men's wages)?
As a past LLL leader, I always delighted in the awe of a young woman's first realization that she helped grow that baby, not Mead Johnson, not Nestle. She did it. She sustained life by breastfeeding her baby. It's a powerful and transforming moment. And maybe that is what the corporate world is so afraid of and why discussions of choice has become the only discussions. Such power, the power of not being dependent on the corporate world for the well-being and safety of your infant is liberation. And the corporate world is mighty afraid of that kind of liberation.
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Milky Way Festival-part 3

We are on our way, on our way to Festival, Festival, the Milky Way Festival. I hear the sounds of voices. Quietly, quietly, whispering, lingering gently on the night. I catch some words but am lulled back to sleep. The voices ebb and flow like the ocean tides. Sleepy, oh so sleepy. Gradually, the wave of voices gets louder and louder. Sleep is over, time to wake up, Festival begins.
In a fog, the music wakes me up, but the words are garbled, oh so garbled. Scientific Speak spoken to the sleepy, sleepy supplicant. What's happening? The music is louder and louder, I can't think, no time to think, just feel the music. Words, what are they saying? Where are we going? Hold on, stand down, jump up, feel the beat. Where are we going? The fog rolls in and the sounds become tendrils of lost time. I can't see, I follow the music....quietly, quietly. Where are we going?
We are lost because we cannot see. We feel, we feel the deep unease of entering the unknown. We feel the power of those who wish to change the world. We are not humanity, we are our genes. We are not culture, we are our genes. I prefer jeans but these people prefer genes worn under the microscope. So where is Festival? Where is the Milky Way Festival? Well, we have the UC Davis festival (I wrote about that the other day). Now we have DTU (Technical University of Denmark) in collaboration with Danisco, Arla Foods, the University of Southern Denmark, University of Copenhagen (KU LLife) and University of Reading collaborating on a project to utilize human milk oligosaccharides to creat a better infant formula. Let me quote from the article, "Research in oligosaccharides from human milk is key to understanding the development of the immune system in newborn infants." Jorn Dalgaard Mikkelsen states, "We plan to develop a way to produce these oligosaccharides using an enzymatic process that will convert certain kinds of food materials into the desired products." You will be glad to know that they are developing a "green" process for this new ingredient in infant formula. Green process? Love it, go green, go infant formula...rah, rah, rah!!!!!!!

Not to be outdone in this rush to use human milk oligosaccharides, is the Bode Lab at UC-San Diego. The mission that they have accepted (Mission Impossible made Possible by funding), "is to provide formula-fed infants with the same benefits that breast-fed infants receive with their mother's milk." The NIH is funding Lars Bode to the tune of $927,000. Dr. Lars Bode interned at Numico, and also has funding from Wyeth ($150,000) and Dannon.

Key to the Milky Way Festival is the theme that "men of science want to make a better infant formula that more closely resembles human milk." That's a good thing, right? Who could ever be opposed to making infant formula safe? "Not me, not me, not me," said the little blind mouse to his brother or was it his sister? Rumor has it that mice really love science, they gather at truck stops hoping to be picked up by some Genome Truck. Life is good in a cage. You get picked up and petted by the labcoats.
Mothers, part of the deal of the Milky Way Festival is to donate your milk; so that the infant formula industry can improve their product and sell it back to you. Oh no, wait, they won't be selling it back to you because you are breastfeeding, right? They will sell it to your sister down the street, in the projects so that her baby will be safe. "We have a product that is genetically designed from breastmilk that will save that poor woman's baby. Your baby, too, if ya get tired of all the bother of breastfeeding," so says the men of designer baby milks. And the mists roll in and the darkness descends upon the festivities. Tomorrow, a new design, genetically engineered and specific for your baby. Are you on the DNA registry? Oh no, I haven't done that yet. The blind mouse laughes as he treads his wheel, "I gave at the office."
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Milky Way Festival part 2

On my way to the Festival, I noticed the International Breast Milk Project (IBMP). They send donor milk to South Africa, and various countries. They recently did the PR for HMBANA (Human Milk Banking Association of North America). regarding donor milk to Haiti. There seems to be alot of public relation people on staff. They are partnered with Prolacta. But mentioned that with HMBANA that Prolacta was not involved. I wonder if HMBANA and the IBMP are going for a longer partnership?? On the IBMP website, I was fascinated with their association with DLA Piper (lawyers). They state, "We support IBMP's core mission of providing breast milk to needy infants in the developing world. DLA Piper's corporate, regulatory and intellectual property lawyers are helping IBMP negotiate the global landscape from a compliance and risk management perspective."

Why does IBMP need intellectual property lawyers to "negotiate the global landscape?" Intellectual property lawyers are expensive lawyers...want me to tell you their hourly rates?? I could almost pay my monthly mortgage payment with what they get an hour. But I guess ya need those guys when you are working globally and with all those human milk component patents. What woman is going to complain about how someone used her milk to create a money-making patent that will be used to make infant formula, or a drug, or a food??? Yeah, don't ask, can't tell ya, just sign the form.....part of the fun of Festival......I guess the fun will begin when various industries fight over who owns a particular human milk component. Mine, no mine, gimme, gimme...I found it first, mom loves me best. And the IP lawyers gleefully rub their hands together as the clock ticks away.....
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Milky Way Festival

"Lady Madonna, baby at your breast
Wonder how you manage to feed the rest...
Just hum along cause I forgot the rest of the words, something about "see how they run." Or is that another Beatle song? Been invited to the Festival? Go, go it will be so much fun, we will be dancing with the stars! The Milky Way Stars
What do you believe? Believe in a world of good and evil? The good guys are us. The bad guys are them.... Of course, I have to say lately that I haven't a clue of who the good and bad guys are because it is all mixed up in my head and garbled like the Beatles song, Lady Madonna. I always thought the Beatles song was about a prostitute trying to keep her children fed. Then I thought maybe it was about the Virgin Mary and was symbolic of the sacraments.
When I was researching patents on human milk, I found a government website devoted to the biology of the mammary gland. The scientific view is that the mammary gland is a manufacturing plant for various proteins that could be used in treating diseases. Yet half of planet USA, believes the mammary gland is a sexual organ whose function is pleasuring men. Ya have to love those scientists, leave it to them to put boobs under a microscope. Manufacturing plant??? Sexual Organ??? Only two choices??? How about a feeding station for the preservation of the species?? Three choices, what's a poor woman ta do??? The symbol on this government website devoted to the mammary gland was the female-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus. I had that moment, that moment of yes, I get it, I get it. This must be about the Roman Empire. The war-driven empire that conquered the world. How do you create a tough, no-nonsense society? Take your sons away from their mothers, and feed them animal milks. Actually, I believe the government mammary gland biology site is about playing with genes--genetic engineering. But interesting that they would have as a symbol, the she-wolf feeding the twins Romulus and Remus. They took alot of this down--the Beatles song, etc. But on one page of their website, you can still see the wolf and those Roman twins.
I got sidetracked on our way to the Milky Way Festival. There is an interest in the human mammary gland, not to preserve and protect breastfeeding. But to create functional foods, nutraceuticals. The interest is not just from the dairy, infant formula, food, and supplement industries but investments are being made through funding by the US government and various educational institutions. For example, lets look at "functional glycobiology." What is glycobiology? It is the study carbohydrates. There has been an enormous interest in the oligosaccharides of human milk and the role they play in prevention of disease. IBCLCs might be interested in looking at the Functional Glycobiology Program at UC Davis. "Since its inception in 2005, the group has assembled a dossier of publications, analytical, physiological, clinical, and molecular methods and protocols, patents on structure-function relationships of a number of oligosaccharide compounds, microbial genetic sequences, and structural databases related to bioactive components found in human milk, which are currently being translated to commercially viable sources of oligosaccharides from bovine milk and other sources."
Who is collaborating with UC Davis on this project/program? Prolacta, Nestle, DSM--makes AA oils for infant formula, California Dairy Research Foundation, Dairy Management, Inc. They are also collaborating with government agencies: NIH, JGI, USDA. They have a couple of patents available for licensing. So let me see how this works, women donate their milk to Prolacta who collaborates with UC Davis on this project (who is collaborating with Nestle of all companies). And they will be creating functional foods from the knowledge of human milk, in particular prebiotic compounds. Funny how we will tell mothers to go out and buy prebiotic and probiotic supplements for the breastfed babies, when all along they are getting doses of prebiotic and probiotic compounds in their own mother's milk. It's a good secret. Of course the prebiotic and probiotic the mother buys is in all liklihood genetically engineered.
Lets look at something else that is interesting. Prolacta has some scientific advisors. One of them is Lars Hansen. He happens to be a co-inventor of a US patent called, "Peptides based on the sequence of human lactoferrin and their use," patent # 7253143. (filed in 1999, human lactoferrin is a component of human milk). This patent states the use of the peptides (human lactoferrin) will be used for the treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections and colitis but also for conditions caused by HIV-1 and CMV. Pharmasurgics in Sweden owns this patent. Hansen has previously been funded by a European infant formula company.
So on our way to the Milky Way Festival, we see a world of mixed interests. Nothing is as it seems, and no one is singing about it. Although, quietly in the background, I hear the Beatles singing Lady Madonna and I swear there is a wolf following me.....
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dancing off the milky way: hiv/aids ideology

Who embraced the ideology of Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) of hiv? Besides the US Department of Health, the infant formula industry and the milk banking industry and associations have embraced this medical ideology. Back in the 80's, the announcement that hiv causes aids was made by the head of the US Department of Health, Margaret Heckler with NIH scientist Robert Gallo. This announcement was done before peer review or any publication of the science behind the belief. The same day of that announcement, patents were taken out by the US Department of Health regarding this belief. One might question whether the race to find the cause of aids was a scientific race or whether it was the pursuit of profit. Later, we would all learn that lies were told, cheating was involved, and that the actual winners of this race were not the Americans but the French. The race was eventually settled by a compromise. How easily the public believes PR campaigns, when it comes from the US Department of Health. The PR back then was so scary that it seemed like we were on the verge of the end of the world. Even the Department of Health believed its own PR campaign and that is always a bad omen for civil liberties.

At first all was well for women and babies. The target was the gay community, then the black community, and then suddenly it became mothers transmitting the virus to babies. Hysteria reigned about the possibility that mothers would transmitt this virus in their breastmilk. Studies were done, announcements were made, and little questioning by the public--since the belief is that only the scientific community can debate this issue. But even debate among scientists was squashed. The infant formula industry embraced the supposed evidence that this new disease passed from mother to child through breastmilk.
Milk banking advocates also embraced the hiv/aids ideology. I suppose to others this all makes sense. Why wouldn't the milk banks understand the science and why wouldn't they believe that donor milk was the answer to the hiv/aids problem?

Back in 1999, I ran across a reference to patents on human milk components. These patents were about using human milk components to treat and inactivate hiv/aids. So I started asking questions of the various milk bank directors. They all thought that it was marvelous that human milk components could treat and inactivate hiv/aids. Yet none questioned the assumption that breastmilk transmitted hiv/aids. The studies done show transmission, end of questions. Yet the studies done on transmission were questionable...particularly when some authors had had funding by the infant formula industry. Some of the questions are based on the very basic problem of defining breastfeeding, of infants carrying maternal antibodies for 18 months or longer(meaning that a positive only shows the mothers disease status not the infant's, and of hiv tests that are inaccurate (test kits stating that the test kit should not be used as a diagnosis).
Embracing hiv/aids ideology means there is a need for breastfeeding substitutes. And yes donor human milk is a breastfeeding substitute. Thus, we have the International Breast Milk Project (IBMP) first call for donations because of hiv/aids in South Africa. (The infant formula industry also had enormous presence in Africa, particularly South Africa because of the hiv/aids crisis). So American women pumped and donated their breastmilk to give to South African babies. As someone who believes that food sources should be locally grown and dispersed. It is hard not to be astounded by the belief system that would have women in one nation donating their breastmilk for infants in a nation across the ocean. Isn't this a waste of resources? Yet, the public relation campaign made it seem very logical and a wonderful gift to South Africa. Just like the breastmilk donations to Haiti, in the blazing lights of media hype seemed like such a great gift.
We, as a nation, believe in transporting food from one part of the country to another, from one nation to another. Yet in a way this cripples the independence of a locality. We now get food from other countries and there are more risks involved because we do not "know" the producers. We pay more for a product that we import because of transportation costs. So with donor milk who absorbs the transportation costs, when it is shipped to another nations? Someone has to pay. Usually, companies or organizations pass the price of transportation onto consumers. Donating breastmilk to other nations will cripple the independence of women in those other nations. It may be free at first, but like all products, free is the hook to get you to buy.
We, now have studies that show that exclusive breastfeeding of hiv positive mothers is life-saving for infants in developing nations. It took years to get to this new policy. The cost of scientific misunderstanding of breastfeeding and hiv/aids is tragic in terms of lives lost. It is difficult to reverse health protocols, particularly when medical staff has to reverse their initial training. Yet, I feel like we should have known better. The patents on human milk components to treat and inactivate hiv/aids should have lead to serious questions regarding the advisability of denying babies breastmilk. Those patents were owned by the infant formula industry, the US Department of Health, and prestigious medical colleges like John Hopkins. The milk banking associations and the for-profit industry had more information than most of the rest of us. Yet, they didn't question policy, but instead embraced the ideology. Blinded?
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Breastmilk in bottles and breastfeeding

Mothering our infants by breastfeeding is being pulled under by the currents of an ideology that we need to understand. It is the ideology of a society enamored with monetary richness over personal connections. A male-dominated culture whose ideology is male-driven not female-driven. A culture that is always at war with people it does not understand. Funny thing is the people they least understand is women.
So not only is our society fighting wars around the world against cultures and religions they don't understand. But internally, our society is at war with women. A good friend of mine pointed out a few years back that most of the programs or movies had women that were useless sidekicks of men or were victims of rapes, beating, and or torture. We have young men growing up with the view that women are "victims." And women take on the victim mentality. We do the shuffle and dance for men even when we think we aren't shuffling and dancing. So what's this got to do with breastfeeding or breastmilk in bottles?
We value certain things in our society: beauty, wealth, and intelligence. We value success because failure is the "F" word. A person is valuable if they are employed. Society believes that all women should be employed. Babies and children are not damaged by day care or by the amount of separation from their mothers. Breastmilk in bottles is equivalent to breastfeeding. After all, the same "product" is being ingested whether by bottle or breast.
What is this equivalency of breast and bottle? Is the "product" the same substance? I don't think the product is the same. Why? First the product is not usually fresh, it is refrigerated or frozen. If for example you eat broccoli right from the garden, how does it taste? It tastes sweet, unlike the store-bought broccoli. We know it is full of vitamins and minerals. It's crisp, its delicious. Store-bought broccoli in the "fresh" produce section tastes bland, dull, and often is rubbery. And we know that the longer it is shelved, the less vitamins and minerals. Frozen broccoli tastes a little better than rubbery broccoli but we know that freezing means it has less vitamins and minerals. I have never seen canned broccoli. I don't think it holds up very well. But we do know that if it were canned, it would have the least amount of vitamins and minerals.
What happens when we put a food in a plastic container or store it in the refrigerator. Sometimes it tastes like the food stored next to it. Sometimes it goes bad fast, depending on where it is placed in the fridge. Sometimes it tastes like plastic that it is stored in, water in bottles often has that plastic taste. Storage of foods or liquids creates changes that most of us can pick up by taste and smell. On the molecular level, I have to believe changes are happening. In fact we know that certain plastic containers cause hormonal changes in humans.
What are other differences between breastfeeding and bottlefeeding breastmilk? Separation of mother and baby. A woman that regularly pumps her milk, will often find that her milk will release to the sound of the pump. Whereas, a woman who is breastfeeding will often find that her milk will release to the cry of her baby or to any baby. The release of oxytocin creates the bonds between a mother and her baby, or the bonds between a man and woman. Are we creating a biological attachment to a thing, a pump? ( I know alot of people won't like this train of thought) Hand expression is a very real option and makes more sense biologically.
Many women with babies have to be employed, no choice. Many can't even work out a situation where they could even bottlefeed breastmilk. Wouldn't it be more logical to pursue legislation that would support breastfeeding, such as allowances for women with babies to stay home? Isn't it better to create environments supportive of attachments between human beings rather than attachments to machines and products? Or are we too far gone as a culture to repair a society vested in destroying human attachment?
Copyright 2010 Valerie W. McClain