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.





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