Monday, January 12, 2015

Detroit mothers call out Medolac over growing exploitation concerns

See the full letter here
Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding AssociationMothering Justice and Breastfeeding Mothers Unite, along with a number of allies, have issued an open letter to Medolac asking for answers to questions and to engage in discussion of the company's "aims and objectives in recruiting African- American mothers in our city to participate in your for-profit milk-selling venture." You can read the letter here. At the bottom there is a place to for community members and organizations who also want to hold Medolac accountable to ask their own questions and/or to sign the letter to show support.

I've shared with the letter authors some of my questions, including my questions about the safety of Medolac's human milk derived products and their involvement with experiments on babies born addicted to illegal/prescription drugs:

Thank you for asking these questions. I would also like Medolac to make public the names of the hospitals that are buying or using their human milk products, and the research studies that show that they are safe for fragile, premature babies in NICUs – in particular, for babies born addicted to illegal or prescription drugs. Why aren’t these babies ALREADY receiving donor human milk? Why are we experimenting on these babies? (Clinical Trial report of research planned by University of Louisville, in partnership with Medolac: ) “This study is designed to develop pilot data on the acceptability and benefit of donor human milk for infants undergoing pharmacologic treatment for NAS. Specifically, gastrointestinal (GI) sub-scores, as well as total scores, will be compared between infants historically fed formula and those enrolled in a 2-week donor human milk study period.”)

Edited to add: If you live in Kentucky and want to donate milk to a non-profit milk bank, Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank  has milk collection depots in Louisville, Lexington and FlorenceThe NICU at the University of Kentucky is one hospital using milk from the Indiana milk bank

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Are there any hospitals using Medolac's "Coop Donor Milk" product?

I have not been able to confirm that any hospitals have purchased Medolac or Mother's Milk Coop's  "Coop Donor Milk" product. 
Medolac/MMC says this commercially
sterile human milk product has a
3 year shelf life. 

Medolac/MMC continues to promote the product for sale. They continue to make reference to it being used currently in hospitals in the US. Pricing information remains unclear and I've been unable to confirm with anyone, anywhere, what hospital might be using the product.

The most product recent sales pitch at the end of 2014 was a "Buy Three Cases Get Two Free" offer. The last price offered after that deal was calculated looks to be around $6/oz.  However MMC's CEO Adrienne Weir said in early January 2015 the price for the product is $4/oz. Further, she has reiterated that there are "hospital partners," NICUS in the US that are using the product. 

Has any hospital purchased this milk? Or has anyone heard of anyone that has purchased this milk? Is any hospital using this milk after receiving it as a donation, free of charge, or on an experimental basis?

If you have any information, I can be reached privately by email. You can also make a completely anonymous comment on this blog -  and if you don't want even your anonymous comment made public, let me know and I will not publish it.

Jodine Chase
Human Milk News

Friday, December 12, 2014

In all that we do...let it be to help more moms to freely breastfeed and to freely provide their milk

As I drink my coffee this morning, I'm reflecting on the turmoil in the breastfeeding community as we watch the battles of two US corporations over the supply of human milk in that country, with non-profit milk banks caught in the line of fire, and the milksharing community standing by, frustrated.

Zeus forces Heracles on a sleeping Hera.

: The Origin of the Milky Way is a painting by
Italian late Renaissance masterJacopo Tintoretto (1575-1580), in
National Gallery, London,
formerly in the 
Orleans Collection.
I keep coming back to this question - how will all this help more babies get human milk?

The background image for this blog is from the painting, "The Origin of the Milky Way", by Renaissance painter Jacopo Tintoretto. It is a portrayal of the Greek myth of Hera, the goddess of marriage. It's lovely to think of the milk of the goddess, spraying across the heavens, creating what we see as the Milky Way.

It's a little darker, though - the way the story goes, Zeus attempts to feed his illicit son Heracles at the breast of his wife Hera, goddess of marriage, while she sleeps. She wakes up, realizes she's been tricked, and pushes him away. Another version has an abandoned Heracles rescued by Athena, protector of children, who brings the foundling to Hera for milk. Hera nurses Heracles, not knowing who he is. This painting is of the former version with Hera pushing away the baby and her milk spraying across the heavens, creating the Milky Way. Either way Heracles gets his super powers from the milk.

The painting feels especially appropriate this morning. Whose version of the myth is correct? Who's exploiting whom? Where are the mothers in all of this? And the innocent babies? I like that either way, Heracles gets his super powers.

Are mothers today being coerced or tricked to provide milk that they otherwise would provide freely? Some say there's a shortage of milk, others say there's enough milk to go around. We know fragile premature babies in NICUs are going without. It's clear the system is somewhat broken and needs reform, but it's not clear how broken, or how much, or what reforms are needed. Who sorts out all the competing interests, protects mothers from exploitation, and makes sure fragile, vulnerable babies get the human milk they need?

As we struggle with the ethical issues around supply and demand, commerce vs altruism,  this must be core of all that we do:  we must ask ourselves, do my actions support, protect, and promote breastfeeding? Are there negative consequences, whether intended or unintended, that will harm moms, harm babies, harm breastfeeding?

In all that we do, let it be to help more moms to freely breastfeed and to freely provide their milk. Let it be to help more babies be breastfed, to help more babies receive human milk.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Medolac will use some of its 1 million oz stockpile to extract and sell human milk oligosaccharides (Part 1)

Kimberly Seals Aller's post about Medolac's program to purchase milk from black mothers in places like Detroit and my blog post on their stockpile of a million ounces of human milk have both received a tonne of attention. Questions abound, like "what are they doing with all that milk" and "why do they want milk from the black mothers of Detroit?"

Here's one thing Medolac says they're going to do with all that milk...

From Medolac's own website, a news release sent out six weeks ago announcing they will soon be offering "large scale purification of Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs)"

Infant formula  makers tout the benefit of oligosaccharides. 
What the, what?

Oligosaccharides are a component in human milk that we're just beginning to understand as a key reason why human milk confers immune properties on infants. Clearly oligosaccharides are an important ingredient - the infant formula industry has gotten all excited and now puts similar-sounding ingredients on their label as sales tactic.
Medolac will soon have "a radical increase in the volume of purified HMOs available for clinical research." Until now "native" human milk oligosaccharides have only been available "at an extremely high cost and in such limited quantities that human clinical studies have never been an option," says the firm. Owner Elena Medo: "thanks to our partnership with the Mothers Milk Cooperative (MMC) we have greatly increased the supply of donor milk to make this possible."

More is planned.

Medo calls this a "first foray into this exciting area of native human milk components including lipids, proteins, oligosaccharides and active biologics."

Who knows what is coming next, but since we're exploring the use of components of breastmilk for research, I should mention that at least one breast milk researcher has suggested a reason to target black mothers would be to access biomarkers specific to black women that may give clues to their higher rate of breast cancer.  Which might sound like it is good thing if it cures cancer in black women, but the notion that we would harvesting black mother's milk to sell their genetic material to researchers who stand to gain enormous profit from resulting treatments is incredibly exploitive.

And it's not that far-fetched. We've already seen breast pump company Medela team up with researchers to extract stem cells from breastmilk, trumpeting it as "a solution to the ethical dilemma of using human embryonic stem cells." My thoughts turned to Margaret Atwood when I heard of the stem cell research and I contemplated 20-something women's milk being harvested not for their own babies, but to treat Baby Boomer's preventable lifestyle illnesses like heart disease and diabetes – a futuristic Handmaid's Tale. The suggestion that Medolac would buy milk from black women in Detroit drew historic comparisons from the egregiously exploitive days when black slave women were forced to wetnurse their master's white babies – one headline writer has labelled the scheme "Mammy 3.0"

Who knows how how much of this HMO product might be available for sale or what the price will be? I'll bet the margins are pretty darn good. Better if the oligosaccharides are coming from milk that isn't otherwise able to be used. MMC is known to reject some of it's mothers' milk due to high bacterial counts, but says it is too expensive to ship it back to the mothers who sent it in. What happens to that milk? Do they pour it down the drain? Or...

Stay tuned for part two, Medolac could be making lucrative, human-milk-derived fortifer from its 1 million ounce stockpile.