Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Concern raised about C. sakazakii testing conflict of interest

Blogger Valerie McClain, who has spent years exploring the financial interests involved in the patenting of components of human milk, has also taken a look from time to time at the pathogen testing industry. Apparently it has only been in the last few years, according to McClain's research, that the food industry has figured out how to test for the sometimes lethal pathogen, E. sakazakii, now renamed Cronobacter sakazakii, in infant formula.

Presumably the industry was using the new test on suspect powdered infant formula samples when, according to Reuters, it reported it could not find the pathogen that killed a baby in Missouri and made two others ill recently in its products.

McClain notes from a liability perspective it is in the industry's interests financially to not be able to find the actual cause of the infant's death. She expresses concern about ties between the infant formula industry and the CDC in funding these kinds of testing methods and wonders if they are preventing true independent oversight of the infant formula industry.

Snapshot of Mead Johnson's stock performance over the last
three months as of the morning of Jan 4th.  Note how it paced the
S&P in December but dropped off after the news of the
Missouri baby's death. It's still off pace.*
Yesterday Businessweek reported US federal officials from the FDA and CDC issued a joint statement (Dec 30)  saying they could find no reason to recall infant formula based on testing. They were unable to find any evidence that contamination from Cronobacter sakazakii occurred during manufacturing or shipping. They wee able to determine that the bacteria that killed the Missouri baby was not related to an Illinois illness. Reports of illness in two other states couldn't be traced.  Edward Aaron, analyst with RBC Capital Markets, told Businessweek, "shares should bounce nicely on his news, but it could take some time for the stock to fully recover. Ultimately we see this as an opportunity to own the same great growth story at a cheaper valuation." Shares of Mead Johnson were up almost 4 per cent on the news.

From McClain's blog post:
"humanmilkpatentpending: Testing, testing, testing for Cronobacter sakazakii in powdered infant milks: Legally for the infant formula industry, not finding this pathogen in powdered infant formula this year is financially beneficial. No lawsuits because they can prove by tests (that industry created) that the organism no longer resides in powdered infant formula. It leaves this situation in a terrifying muddle because parents cannot know exactly how to protect their infant, other than breastfeeding. And we know from the various infant formula blogging mommies that that isn't going to happen anytime soon. I would feel more comfortable about this situation, if the tests that were developed had no one from the food industry involved. And I would feel more comfortable about this situation if the CDC was not getting its "projects" funded by the CDC Foundation that partners with most of the infant formula, food, and drug industry. Why aren't we more concerned about the kind of influence and funding going on that impacts our health care system."

Edited to add stock market visuals, above, 10:30 a.m., Jan 4.