Friday, August 31, 2018

Grassroots organizations or astroturf? How US Breastfeeding Policy Is Influenced.

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed:  everything else is public relations."  --George Orwell

Suzanne Barston, CLC (Certified Lactation Consultant) is employed by AbbVie, a spinoff company from its parent company Abbott Labs.  And silence rains upon the land.  No one's talking, including breastfeeding advocacy organizations.  I did ask the certification organizations for the credential CLC, if they would care to comment.  Nope, nada and they can't even tell me whether Suzanne Barston is still certified or not.  Fascinating how blinded organizations are in regard to the infant formula industry and its influence.

Speaking of influence, exactly who influenced the US Health Department regarding the US position on breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly in May of this year?  Could it have been a task force meeting held in February by the US National Institute of Child Health and Development?  The Task Force was created regarding research on pregnant and lactating women (PRGLAC).

"The 21st Century Cures Act established PRGLAC to advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding gaps in knowledge and research on safe and effective therapies for pregnant women and lactating women.  PRGLAC is tasked with identifying these gaps and will report its findings back to the Secretary."

**The US Secretary of Health and Human Services is Alex Azar, previously President and CEO of ELI Lilly and Company (US Division) and delegate in May of this year to the World Health Assembly's meeting on breastfeeding.  The US threatened various delegates about their support of breastfeeding.  And made various proposals to change the language of breastfeeding support.

The people who attended the February meeting held by the NICHD that reported to the Secretary of HHS, Alex Azar, included 3 members of the Fed Is Best Foundation-Beth del Castillo, Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, and Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, IBCLC. Representatives from various companies were there:  Novartis, Eli Lilly, and various government representatives of the CDC, FDA and NICHD.  Also various representatives from US hospitals, for example well-known in breastfeeding research, Diane Spatz.

Representatives from Lippe Taylor, a PR company also attended this meeting.  Their clients just happen to be, Nestle, Gerber, Pfizer, Reckitt Benkiser (Mead Johnson), P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Myriad, etc. Also the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) which has an interest in the gut microbiome.

I have no idea how one gets an invitation to these meetings (not always the same people invited).  I am particularly curious how the FIB (Fed Is Best) Foundation was able to get seats at this particular meeting.  I certainly don't consider Jody Segave-Daly, RN, IBCLC to represent my views or those of IBCLCs I have known over the years.  And I most definitely feel that Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi has little understanding of breastfeeding research.  Although she obviously is quite brilliant, having co-invented a patent with Edward A Berger, well known US government molecular biologist, using a genetically engineered monoclonal antibody against hiv.   

"A neutralizing monoclonal antibody (MAb) with potent and broadly cross-reactive activity would have great potential value in protocols aimed at preventing HIV infection before or immediately after exposure, for example in neonatal transmission, post-exposure prophylaxis, and as a topical inhibitor. Such a MAb may also be useful in treating chronic infection (D'Souza et al. J. Infect. Dis. 175:1056-1062, 1997). "  US Patent #8420099 owned by the United States of America as represented by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

MAb's can be created by using human milk fat globule and injecting into mice.

Although this patent does not appear to use these older techniques to create MAb's.  But surprised that Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi can be an expert in molecular biology while also attending medical school.  Yet fail to understand breastfeeding research.

Some people may have first heard of the FIB Foundation, when Suzanne Barston introduced Dr. Del Castillo-Hegyi on her Fearless Formula Blog in 2015.

I recently ran across an article by Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi and Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, IBCLC  on the World Health Assembly (WHA) breastfeeding decision.  I am amazed that they had so much information.  Information that I hadn't seen anywhere else regarding the suggestions by the US delegates in changing the language of breastfeeding support at the WHA.  They make the following statement,
"Two pediatricians, Dr. Alma Golden and Dr. Brett Giroir,  who were key members of the U.S. delegation attending the 71st World Health Assembly, wrote about the rationale for the U.S. opposition of the first draft"

Dr. Brett Giroir is Assistant US Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.  He is co-inventor to various patents owned by Baxter, Cytokine Pharma Science and Xoma Technologies.  Xoma technologies collaborates with many pharma companies including: Bristol Myers Squibb, Abbott, Elli Lilly and Company as well as the FDA.

Dr. Alma Golden works for USAID and is involved in faith-based organizations for family planning, HIV/AIDS in order to advance global health.

So I suppose I don't really wonder why the US delegates to the WHA seemed so breastfeeding unfriendly, lots of money riding on whether women breastfeed or not.  Read an article in Chicago Business from July 9, 2018.  It states,

"The Trump's Administration's moves to weaken a resolution promoting breastfeeding at an international forum had a potential local beneficiary, North Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories."

I am left with a lot of questions about those who seem to influence US breastfeeding policy.  I understand industry's interest--its about the money.  But the FIB Foundation's interest in dismantling breastfeeding advocacy not just in the USA but world-wide is a curious thing.
Valerie W. McClain Copyright 2018


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Corporate Journalism and the Fearless Formula Feeder

"Authenticity.  Listening.  Finding unique angles.  Those are the keys for journalists seeking earned coverage via social media, according to Suzanne Barston, manager, corporate journalism, corporate communications at AbbVie.  As founding partner of AbbVie's StoryLab, Barton is responsible for creating stories around the company's therapeutic areas, pipeline and philanthropy."
--Jim Aikon, "How AbbVie Leverages Social for Earned Media."  8/7/18 

Reading this article was an eye-opening experience, particularly since I have written in this blog about Suzanne Barston, otherwise known as The Fearless Formula Feeder.  She is the author of the book, Bottled Up:  How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood and Why It Shouldn't.   When her book came out;  she did the usual publicity tour of talk shows, book signing, etc.  I remember watching her on one talk show and thinking how does someone who is virtually unknown able to garner so many public and media appearances?  For that matter how did she get published?  I chalked it up to her being a writer and editor for health and parenting publications.  But of course now I wonder about her employment with Abbvie.  Was she employed by Abbott Labs or Abbvie during the time she blogged and wrote her book?  Or was this job the ultimate reward for attacking breastfeeding advocacy, by a company that is a spinoff of Abbott Labs, manufacturer of Similac?

 In 2011 Abbott Labs announced in the NY Times its intention to become 2 separate companies, a spinoff.  This became official in January of 2013.  Abbot Labs is considered the parent company.

 "A spinoff retains its assets, employees, and intellectual property from the parent company which gives it support in a number of ways, such as investing equity in the newly formed firm, and providing legal, technology, or financial services."
--definition of spinoff,

Corporate Journalist, Suzanne Barston, states in a session brief about her talk. Speak Softly and Carry a Big Narrative:  When Quiet Stories Speak the Loudest,  posted at epharma,

"Complicating things further, patients and external audiences are more media savvy than ever.  They can smell the complexity of marketing behind our best efforts;  taste the inauthenticity in our paid influencer communications."

and last sentence regarding her intended talk,

"In this session, we'll examine how unbranded, journalistic content boosted a company's reputation in a tangible way, despite less-than-perfect metrics, and show how in the end, authentic storytelling is worth more than SEO [Search Engine Optimization-common term used by social marketing sites]."

Reading that last sentence I wonder whether her "authentic storytelling" that boosted a company's reputation is about her blog-The Fearless Formula Feeder? As a corporate journalist, she is concerned that media savvy people may "taste the inauthenticity in our paid influencer communications."  Well, I am tasting it and I am a bit angry.  Our corporate journalist totally denied and dismissed the breastfeeding advocates who smelled something fishy about her blog.  I wrote about it back in 2014,

The really sad thing about this is that her blog has been quite influential.  Her blog influenced quite a few breastfeeding advocates and some breastfeeding organizations to tone down their advocacy for fear of causing shame in formula feeding mothers.  But she also was politically influential.  In a position paper written by Jennifer Doverspike in 2013 to the The Federalist, a Republican conservative think tank organization, Doverspike writes in the second paragraph of her 6 page paper,

"Don't believe me?  Just ask Suzanne Barston, the founder of a website dedicated to freedom in infant feeding choices.  Her blog, Fearless Formula Feeder (Tag line: Standing up for formula feeders...without being a boob about it) is about the battle to destigmatize formula feeding.  When Mayor Bloomberg announced his Latch On NYC initiative in 2012, Barston went nuclear."
--Jennifer Doverspike, The Literal Nanny State--Breastfeeding and Public Health Officials, The Federalist

Doverspike continues on to discuss the WHO Code as restrictive to access of formula, formula advertising and samples given to mothers.  She states, "The WHO Code appears to be organized around a simple, if dubious, premise:  It's always the evil corporations' fault."  Then she writes about Iran taking control of the import and sale of infant formula (only available by prescription).  She considers this madness.  She considers it an encroachment on personal freedom.

No, Jennifer Doverspike, this is not about personal freedom, its about corporate freedom to influence generations of parents to use their products no matter what the risks.  Her introduction of don't believe me, read The Fearless Formula Feeder website seems rather ironic.  Maybe it would be more truthful if this paper had just given out the Abbot Labs or Abbvie websites rather than Suzanne Barston's website.  Has this paper influenced US politics?  I would say so after reading about the performance of the US delegation to WHA (World Health Assembly) regarding support of breastfeeding.  This Republican Administration appears to be under the sway of this particular paper.

Doverspike gives breastfeeding its token benefits but states they are exaggerated.  Her concerns are supposedly about the USA becoming a "Nanny State," where personal choice becomes limited.  Yet I have to wonder, if the real concern is about propping up a billion dollar industry, so that there is no governmental oversight, no regulations? 

She states that the benefits of breastfeeding are exaggerated.  She ought to read a few infant formula patents in which the infant formula company just has to use a synthetic/genetically engineered imitation of a human milk component to improve or make a safer product.  Interestingly I have read various breastfeeding advocates who state there are no benefits to breastfeeding.  Ignorance versus ignorance seems to be the way of our media-crazed social marketing internet.

Well, Fearless Formula Feeder, aka corporate journalist (although I fear I will never like the word-journalist-any more);  how do you sleep at night?  Any regrets?  It feels like a con, smells like a con, by god we have been conned.
Copyright 2018 Valerie W. McClain

Monday, August 6, 2018

Down the Rabbit-Hole-part 2: "Money is the mother's milk of politics."

"But there is a 'creation myth' that is blind to both, nature’s creativity and biodiversity as well as to women’s creativity, intelligence and knowledge. According to this 'creation myth' of capitalist patriarchy, rich and powerful men are the 'creators'. They can own life through patents and intellectual property. They can tinker with nature’s complex evolution over millennia and claim their trivial yet destructive acts of gene manipulation as 'creating' life, food and nutrition."  --Vandana Shiva, "Tackling 'Monocultures of the Mind'"

Glued to my seat, I stare at the computer screen.  I learn that some Americans are deeply surprised that breastfeeding is political.  And some people are surprised and shocked that US delegates to the World Health Assembly in May had tried and partly succeeded in watering down (only minor changes they say) an international resolution supporting breastfeeding.  Why am I not surprised?  The only thing I am surprised about is that it took 2 months for this information to make it to the US new's cycle!

The Trump/Republican Administration has its priorities.  Chaos becomes a priority, a smokescreen that hides intention.  Changing stories, repetitive lying is designed to create a level of mental chaos on one's opponents and everyone is an opponent.  People have to make sense out of the decision-making of this Administration.   And the reality is that this Administration is not about sense.  It's about distraction and chaos.  Trying to make sense of it, is a fruitless task.

Having lived 60-some years on this earth, I have on occasion met people who are driven to create chaos in their lives as well as in everyone else's life.  I learned to not waste my time analyzing their behavior, trying to make sense out of senseless actions.  Instead, I realized that there is no appeasement with those who choose to rein chaos down on your life.  Walking away, keeping a distance has been a solution.  But what to do when those who are governing a people are intent upon reining havoc upon their nation as well as other nations?  

The Business of Patents

Over the years I have been told many things in regard to my "obsession," about human milk component patenting.  I have been told by some breastfeeding advocates that patents don't mean anything. so I suppose that comment means I am wasting my time by writing about it.  Yet corporations spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in fees to the US Patent Office and thousands of dollars in IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) lawyers, and court proceedings. An international patent is estimated to cost over $100,000.  A US patent can cost from $12,000 (less complex patent) to $20,000 (software patents) in filing costs alone.  Then there are attorney fees ranging from $5000-$15,000.  Large corporations have multiple patents and patent applications.  Court costs for patent infringement cases can cost a million or so dollars. So if money has any meaning, then patenting appears to me to be a huge investment by corporations.  So patents on human milk components have a economic and political impact.  And that impact can be and is already showing to be a negative impact on the promotion of breastfeeding.

I have to dismiss this attitude that patenting means nothing.  In an editorial in Intellectual Asset Management (july/August 2012) titled, "Key issues in building a strong life sciences patent portfolio," the article states,

"Patents are the engine that drives venture capital investment and initial public offer funding, as well as mergers and acquisitions in the life sciences industries.  Venture capitalists, Big Pharma and the stock market all need to be convinced that a start up has enough IP protection to gain an edge over its competitors."

In the Boston Business Journal, Joe Hadzima, Jr., Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management states,

"Twenty years ago patents weren't very valuable in the sense that they were not upheld in court that often.  Today as a result of changes in the patent laws, inventors are more often prevailing in multi-million dollar lawsuits.  For example, the holder of a patent on the bar code process has reportedly received over $450 million in royalties and judgments."

While many people may think that patents are meaningless, it is quite apparent that in the business world they have monetary value.  Dismissing the thousands of patents based on human milk component research as meaningless seems rather peculiar.  Particularly when some of those patents are owned by the infant formula industry.  Protecting the enormous investment in patents would seem like a probable outcome, particularly when a world organization asks for support for and promotion of breastfeeding.  No corporation wants to throw money away on its investments by supporting the competition.  And breastfeeding is the competition
"Money is the mother's milk of politics" *

"Money is the mother's milk of politics."  This quote was used in an article that went on to discuss how 3 infant formula companies (Abbott, Nestle, and Mead Johnson which is now Reckitt Benckiser) spent $60.7 million on lobbying US lawmakers  during the last decade. 

So not only does the infant formula industry use advertising to consumers to influence the buying habits of families but they also lobby the government in order to influence policy.  This influence peddling is not new but is an ongoing situation in which corporate interests influence health care policies.  Another form of influence is when heads of various governmental agencies have corporate backgrounds. For example the current head of the Department of Health and Human Resources, Secretary Alex Azar was President of Eli Lilly from 2012-2017 and also was on the Board of Directors of the organization BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization-trade association supporting biotechnology-genetic engineering-Monsanto). During his confirmation hearings for the job of Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Resources, he was questioned about his role in Eli Lilly's gaming of the patent  system by extending their erectile dysfunction drug-Cialis by testing it on pediatric patients who had a rare muscle-wasting disease.

As Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, he is in charge of the reunification of immigrant families seeking asylum at the border.  He made statements about this reunification process that, "There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located."  And stated that the Department of HHS was acting out of "generosity for immigrant children."  All of these statements contradicted by the facts brought out by various news organizations and the ACLU.

Secretary Alex Azar was the head US delegate to the May meeting at the WHA (World Health Assembly) in which Ecuador was to introduce a supportive statement regarding breastfeeding. Most of us have heard the rest of the story.  Ecuador felt threatened and backed down and the Russian delegates made the introduction to support breastfeeding.  The US delegation says they did not threaten anyone.  But obviously something happened.

The US Deputy Secretary to Secretary Alex Azar is Eric D. Hargan who previously has been shareholder in a lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig LLP.  Some of the lobbying firm's clients were Bayer (a pharmaceutical company that also manufactures infant formula), Albertson's Grocery, Samsung. etc.

According to the Washington Examiner on the WHO meeting on sugar taxes,
"Eric Hargan, the U.S. deputy secretary for health and human services, reported that he was the commissioner who blocked advocacy for a levy on sugar on the said panel, arguing it was not clear that imposing taxes on sugary drinks like sodas and fruit juices would improve public health."

Those who were appointed to the US Health and Human Services agency seem to side with business interests at the WHO.  One would suppose that this agency would be supportive of health promotion not business promotion.  But not to many people realize that the US Department of Health and Human Service owns patents.  They even own a patent on human lactoferrin (a component of human milk).

Patent #5948613, in which they state the following,

"Another embodiment of the present invention relates to a method of treating a condition in a patient characterized by a deficiency in lactoferrin by administering to the patient an amount of human lactoferrin according to the present invention in sufficient quantities to eliminate the deficiency. The conditions include neutropenia, AIDS, skin infection, gastrointestinal bacterial overgrowth syndrome, vaginal infection and septic shock."

The patent was filed in 1996, so it is a dead patent.  A patent is valid for 20 years from date of filing, although extensions are possible.  Fascinating that the US Department of Health owned a patent that stated that human lactoferrin, a component of human milk, could eliminate a variety of health issues including AIDs.  Yet, they are not supportive of breastfeeding by women who test positive for hiv.  Maybe they forgot to read their own patent? Or maybe it is that money is the mother's milk of politics?
Copyright  2018 Valerie W. McClain

* "Money is the mother's milk of politics," is attributed to statements made in 1960's by California Democrat, Jesse Unruh, who died in the 1980's.