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Archived Comments for: Global health policies that support the use of banked donor human milk: a human rights issue

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  1. Banked donor human milk, human rights, and patents

    Valerie McClain, none

    16 December 2006

    It is disturbing that this paper seems to have left out an important issue regarding human rights and human milk banking. That issue is the patenting of human milk components, real and genetically engineered.

    There are over 1200 patents and patent applications on human milk components in just the USA. The ownership and monopolization of human milk components has been declared by various institutions and corporations from medical universities such as John Hopkins and Baylor College of Medicine, to infant formula companies such as Nestle and Wyeth, to biotech companies such as Agennix, and even including the US Government as represented by the Department of Health. Yet Arnold's paper makes no mention of patenting.

    She suggests that one way a government can actively become involved is to "provide seed money or continous funding for the establishment and operation of donor milk banks." But what does that mean, when the US Government owns several patents on human milk components? What are the ramifications, if the government also funds donor milk banking? Will it mean more breastfeeding or more human milk feeding?

    Arnold states that this governmental support is needed so that "donor milk can compete fairly with commercially available manufactured breast milk substitutes." Are we witnessing the birth of a new industry, the human milk industry? And to make this industry viable, what will they do? Does a human milk industry support breastfeeding, it's competition?

    Much of human milk research is funded by the infant formula industry. Arnold mentions that in Brazil, donor milk banking is thriving. That is truly wonderful. Yet I recently ran across a research paper written by Brazilians, de Araujo and Giugliano, in which they obtained their breast milk samples from the Human Milk Bank of the Hospital Materno Infantil in Brasilia, Brazil.(1) This research was partly funded by Nestle Brasil Ltd. Did mothers who donated their milk know that their donations were going to research sponsored in part by the infant formula industry?

    What are the rights of mothers who donate their milk? Governments may have a moral obligation to see that all infants are fed. But what happens when a government holds a monopoly to that natural resource? Will breastfeeding be promoted and protected? Or will it be the patents and the monopoly that is protected?

    References:

    1)de Araujo, Andrea Nascimento and Giugliano, Loreny Gimenes. "Lactoferrin and free secretory component of human adhesion of enteropathogenic Eshcerichia coli to HeLa Cells." BMC Microbiology 1:25 (2001)<http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=59506>

    Competing interests

    no competing interests

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