Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Got Breastmilk? Public Relations, blogs, and astroturfing

In July 2008 I was intrigued by a blog post entitled, "California Milk Processor Board Goes After Breastfeeding Advocate," written by Jennifer Laycock at the Lactivist Blogspot. She told the story of a Talkeetna batik artist who got in trouble for advertising t-shirts and onesies with the words "got breastmilk?" The artist got a letter from a law firm that represented the California Milk Processor Board. The name was too similar to the trademark, "Got Milk?" The blog writer encouraged readers to write the California Milk Processor Board to let them know that there is a "difference between jugs containing breast milk and jugs containing cow's milk." I was one among many commentators to her blog post. I stated the the California Milk Processor Board was lead by a PR man, Jeff Manning (at that time in 2008). This man was considered a marketing leader for a variety of ad campaigns (beef, etc).
I later became convinced that Jennifer Laycock was also in public relations and wrote about it on my blog. I also believed that the word so now commonly used, lactivist, was a word dreamed up by PR people.

At this same time in 2008, the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) applied for the trademark,"Got Breastmilk." I felt then that the blogging about the CMPB by breastfeeding bloggers (not just Jennifer Laycock) had resulted in the CMPB applying for that trademark. Now, that La Leche League International is paying royalities for the use of this trademark, I feel like someone got played. But who? Who played who? Is this what happens when public relation campaigns go head to head (the dairy industry PR people vs the breastfeeding PR people)? And what happens when organizations start believing their own PR people rather than independently investigating situations?

I see no mention about what happened in 2008 among the sparse comments regarding LLLI's decision to pay royalties to the CMPB in 2011. So I have a million questions and I am pretty sure that there are no answers. Why? Because we are dealing with public relations, health marketing. Who hires for such endeavors? Government mostly. But non-profits, corporations also hire PR people to promote a product, an idea, political or health objective.

The CDC website writes about "Health Marketing Basics." Now who would think that the CDC needs to market anything? Welcome to the bizarre world of Health Marketing. Bloggers are hired to market the CDC "wares." The CDC writes about their mommy bloggers.

I started to wonder about many of the breastfeeding blog sites in which the sites are similar (same style, first names only, same advertisements, same themes, same kinds of thinking). One would suppose there are a lot of breastfeeding woman thinking the same kinds of things, liking the same advertising, etc. Well, ya know I want breastfeeding promoted but this isn't quite what I had in mind. In fact, I am wondering if the Got Breastmilk? fiasco is the result of Public Relations gone amuck?

What about astroturfing? Is this an example of it? "Astroturf refers to apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms."

I think back to another PR fiasco regarding donating human milk for babies in Haiti. Huge PR initially to get moms to donate their milk to the not-for profit milk banks to help the infants in Haiti. Of course, had the PR people truly understood breastfeeding and natural disasters, they would never have gone "Viral" pleading for donor milk. I also find myself questioning whether the organization, Human Milk 4 Human Babies, (milk sharing through the internet) is just another PR game. The internet creates an enormous opportunity for those in the PR industry to create Illusion, to make us believe that there is a lot of women sharing breastmilk over the internet. Is there? And if this is an illusion, who wants us to believe this? And why do they want us to believe this? Is it the regulators, who want to put a stop to milk sharing over the internet? Create the illusion that tons of women are sharing breastmilk through the internet making it important to have regulation? Who benefits if private milk sharing is regulated by the FDA? Hm, milkbanks might be happier. Is the world really what the internet portrays as reality? Who is paying for the PR? Is it PR? Will you ever know?
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not in My Backyard

I write this knowing that it may not post because my computer is not working correctly. Probably I have been hacked. But then again maybe not. Well, maybe? Who knows?
I have been following the crisis in Japan and feel a multitude of troubling thoughts. First, my prayers for all the people in Japan faced with the task of dealing with the unthinkable. My heartfelt sympathy for the huge loss of life. And gratitude for those who are trying to save lives and help in this monumental diaster.

My thoughts reflect my interest in breastfeeding and the properties of human milk. Should women breastfeed, if they have been exposed to significant amounts of radiation? Is it safer to bottlefeed? What are the known risks of formula feeding in emergency situation? We know that in the midst of a disaster that access to food and water is difficult. Stores maybe emptied of supplies. Thus a steady supply of artificial milks for babies may be inconsistent or limited. Electricity to warm the milks, refrigeration to store it, and water to clean bottles and nipples maybe nonexistent. Water may be contaminated, in a nuclear accident this is a strong possibility. Thus, putting the bottlefed infant at risk for bacterial/toxic contamination. Access to prompt medical care for anyone maybe limited or not available. Thus an infant on artificial milks in the midst of a disaster is placed at a higher risk of illness and death than an infant who is breastfed. What happens to people who are displaced whose resources are destroyed? Will they have money to buy infant formula, if there are stores open? These are issues that are critical to making decisions regarding artificial feeding of infants.

But what about the properties of human milk? We do know some things regarding radiactivity and breastfeeding. In a book called Breastfeeding Matters (an excellent book published in 1985) by Maureen Minchin she writes,

"All babies begin to accumulate radioactive strontium in their bones before birth. In the baby who is being breastfed, the body content of strontium diminishes (the baby excretes more than he or she takes in) but the bottlefed infant has increased strontium in his bones, as cows' milk may contain six times as much strontium as breastmilk, and the mineral balance of cows' milk ensures that it is depositied in baby's bones."

From the book, Milk, Money, & Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding by Naomi Baumslag and Dia L. Michels(published 1995),

"Information from Italy and Austria shows that breastmilk contained one/three-hundredth the amount of radioactive iodine and caesium that was found in cow's milk following the Chernobyl accident." (cow's milk in the region had to be discarded creating shortages of fresh milk and infant formula)

"Additionally, the radiation levels in breastmilk were much lower than were the levels in the mother's body, leading researchers to conclude that some mechanism exists that reduces the radioactive materials in the milk as it is produced."

A study entitled, "Strontium-89 and Strontium-90 levels in Breast Milk and in Mineral-Supplement Preparations," by Jarvis et al., Can Med Associ J. 1963 January 19; 88(3): 136-139 states in the abstract,

"Strontium-90, strontium-89 and S.U. values were determined in human milk before and after the resumption of atmospheric nuclear testings in 1961, and the levels were compared to cows' milk values reported during the same time. S.U. 90 levels in human milk were approximately one-fifth of those found in cows' milk."

In reading various patents over the years, I remember running across a patent on human lactoferrin to be used to treat people who had been contaminated with toxins (nerve gas in particular). Industry is using recombinant human lactoferrin to prevent food toxins, sprayed on foods. Perhaps the mechanism that lowers the amount of radiactivity in human milk is human lactoferrin. At the moment, my computer is rather unstable, so I am limited at this time in giving references or patent numbers.

In the midst of a disaster, choice of infant feeding may not be the issue because access to infant
formula is impossible. Breastfeeding will be essential for survival. Mothers who have been bottlefeeding need to know that relactation is a very real possibility. In a disaster situation supplies of infant formula may be available at shelters, but not always. We know from Hurricane Katrina that initially supplies of infant formula were very limited (when shelters were cut off from help).

"May all be fed, May all be healed, May all be loved." John Robbins, author. A prayer for our world, our community, and for those in times of trouble.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Friday, March 11, 2011

Got Breastmilk-part 4

In a debate what do you do when you have been placed in a defensive position? Yes, you don't back down, you go on the offense, muddle the question, create blame; and if you are ruthless enough, create the scapegoat. Thus the issue of LLLI and the licensing of "Got Breastmilk" with the California Milk Processing Board becomes another issue. The issue of IBCLCs, going to formula-funded Conferences, or presenting at Conferences sponsored by WHO Code breakers. The turning of the tables means that the real issue is buried. What is the real issue? At this time it is not individuals in a profession who are ignoring the WHO Code, it is organizations making decisions that make the WHO Code moribund, dead in its tracks. I am not sure why breastfeeding advocates allow the issue to be reinvented. Fear of public discussion, "airing your dirty laundry in public?" Yet, by burying this so very critical essence of breastfeeding advocacy, we allow multi-national corporations to call the shots. While the PR states that the California Milk Processing Board (CMPB) is giving 50% of the royalties to LLLI for use of their trademark, "Got Breastmilk," we need to consider that LLLI is giving royalties to the dairy processing industry (the infant formula industry is part and parcel of this industry). Great PR switch in saying that royalties are going to LLLI. In fact the royalties are going to CMPB, just that they are only taking 50% of their cut.
A description of the CMPD and that it is funded by California milk processors:
The executive director is Steve James, formerly of Dean Foods and was general manager and president of Swiss Dairy (as of 2006). Swiss Dairy is owned by Dean Foods.
Dean Foods does an organic brand of infant formula. There has been controversy over their "marketing gimmick."
The irony of a breastfeeding organization paying royalities to the marketing section of the dairy industry (which encompasses the infant formula industry) escapes few people but those who seem to have made this decision. There are a ton of questions regarding this decision. Where did the LLL Board get their information regarding the CMPB? Was legal advice used? Who did the research on this to determine whether it was a good thing to do? Are other breastfeeding organizations supportive of this? Is the sounds of silence the answer to this? What happens when non-profits become less and less transparent in their actions? What happens when they become unanswerable to the wishes of the very people who support them? I don't really expect that any of this will become public and so the saga ends. It was a very good organization, God rest its soul.......
For those who are interested in some more patent applications, I thought I'd add a few more patent applications to mull over. First though I want to take a quote from the US Patent & Trademark on what is a patent.
"A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor 'to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States' for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted."
In the USA, public disclosure is part of the price of receiving a monopoly on your invention. The website of the US Patent & Trademark Office is
Patent application #20100217182 entitled, "Process for Use with Breastpump to Initiate Milk in Breastfeeding, Particularly for Premature Infants," inventors: Brian H. Silver and Paula Meier
owned by Medela Holding AG.
Patent application #20110045590 entitled, "CALCIUM-INFLUX INHIBITORY FACTOR AND METHOD OF ISOLATION," inventor, E. Stephen Buescher, owned by Eastern Virginia Medical School.
If readers want to know about these patent applications, you can read them at the US Patent & Trademark Office, because patents, patent applications are public record. You can read the trademarks there, too.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Got Breastmilk, part 3

Through 12 years of trying to bring my research on human milk component patenting to the attention of breastfeeding organizations, I have met with silence, criticism, but mostly just silence. Sometimes there was interest but the doors would slam shut at some point in time. I never quite understood the reaction I got from organizations that I thought would want to have this information. There was the possibilities of speaking, of books; but only on someone else's terms. Organizations desire information but they want to control the perspective. Not that I believe my perspective is the only way to look at reality. But, all perspectives should be heard, read, and discussed; if one believes in democratic ideals. Where goes an organization, when it refuses to look inside itself, to be open to other points of view? It withers because everyone is too afraid to speak up for fear of ostracism. And that is what I have faced for some years now. It hasn't been pleasant. And I realize that many people in these organizations believe it was justly deserved. How dare someone be critical of human milk research or human milk banks. At one point in time, I called for a moratorium on donating human milk because of my fear about what industry (particularly the infant formula industry) was doing with donor milk. The earth trembled and I was swallowed into the void of no return. Can't say that, because there is professional hell to pay for stating your concerns. They were based on human milk component patents. But no one wanted to hear about it, unless they could use the information to benefit themselves or their organizations. Bitter, yeah, maybe....I am over it. So frankly it isn't too shocking that LLLI decided to enter a licensing agreement with the California Milk Processor Board. They weren't interested in the information on human milk component patenting and its association with the infant formula industry, so why be shocked about a financial deal with the top dairy processors in California? Let me take that back. Some people in breastfeeding organizations were interested in human milk component patenting. In fact a person on the US Breastfeeding Committe convinced me in the year 2000, to send her a notebook of the information I had on human milk component patenting. I compiled some of what I had into a three-ring binder and sent it to her ( cost me money, not her). The reason I sent it was this person told me that it would be presented to the Committee. I was very excited about breastfeeding advocates having this information and thought it might keep them up-to-date on what was going on with human milk component patenting and the new industries developing. Months passed and I never heard what happened in regard to her presentation. After many upsetting emails, with my demanding the minutes of the US Breastfeeding Committee meeting, I was finally told that there never was a presentation. She had given the 3-ring binder to a government official at this meeting and it had never been given back to her. She wouldn't divulge the name of the government official. I threatened to go to a US Breastfeeeding Committee meeting (they don't have that many meetings and its in Washington, DC). She told me that I would not be allowed to attend any meeting of the US Breastfeeding Committee. She couldn't understand my anger. It wasn't her fault. In reflection, I have to laugh, I was so naive back then, so very naive. I really thought that the breastfeeding people were the good guys and the infant formula industry was the bad guys. Life ain't that way. Ethics or lack of ethics exists on both sides. Life is not good versus evil, except in fiction or in organizations that want you to think a certain way. It is one way to recognize propaganda, when what is being stated is put into terms of we are the good, and over there is the evil. Although I do recognize that psychopathy exists in people and in organizations.

Some years after the fiasco with the US Breastfeeding Committee, I was booted off Lactnet (although some years later I was told I could resubscribe but that any post I made to Lactnet would be monitored by the listmothers). The topic of patenting of human milk components was considered off-topic on Lactnet, not to be brought up and discussed. I realized that speaking the truth as you see it (even with references) is not acceptable to people who control organizations...unless it agrees with what those in power are saying. Some people understand this early on in their youth, I guess I never learned that lesson. Of course there is more to this than what I have written, but it's been a long lonely road. And many other people walk that long, lonely road because no two human being are the same or think the same. We are an infinite variety of thoughts, ideas, and personalities. Yet our technological society requires that we meld our individuality for the betterment of the society. But for who's betterment? Society? Or for those in power who try to control society? Am I surprised about the direction, breastfeeding advocacy is going? No. Just surprised about the silence. But god that is funny, why should I be surprised about the silence? This could be an opportunity to change direction but the silence tells me that it isn't going to happen.

Of interest is the PR from the California Milk Processors Board (CMPB) on various market wires.

"We applaud and support the efforts of La Leche League," says Steve James, CMPB executive director. "Got Milk?" and La Leche League care for the health and wellbeing of moms and babies alike. Both organizations believe that breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of satisfying the needs of the baby. As as the baby gets older, cow's milk is the other best natural source of of food for children. It provides calcium and many essential nutrients growing kids need for strong bones, muscles, teeth, hair, and nails."

"The CMPB will give 50 percent of royalties from the sale [buttons, postcards, baby onsies, toddler shirts] to the La Leche League ."

The CMPB is funded by all California milk processors (like Dean, Nestle, etc) and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Rather interesting how government and big business combine to run a marketing campaign for the dairy industry. The lack of concern over this licensing deal between LLLI and CMPB means that somehow in the USA we do not associate the dairy industry with the infant formula industry. And yet I would suggest to readers there is a big connection and cow's milk has been and is used around the world as a breastmilk substitute.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Got Breastmilk" part 2


This is La Leche League International's website on the "Got breastmilk" trademark. Click on the underlined statement on top that mentions the trademark and you get the advertising for the dairy industry-a cow's milk container spinning slowly around. It's the advertising image from the "gotmilk" website of the California Milk Processing Board. Well, well, well.

You know this is beyond rational belief, beyond my understanding. Well I guess I now understand why breastfeeding advocates are hook, line and sinker for vitamin D supplements. Hey, it goes with the dairy industry. Vitamin D was a big addition to cow's milk, some years ago. So if ya need it for cow's, ya most certainly need it for the humanmilk industry.

I keep thinking about the mother and father in New Orleans who are serving life sentences because they fed their infant (who was preterm, released early from the hospital in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina) cow's milk. The judge in New Orleans thought that parents should know not to do this and of course just because they didn't have money is no excuse not to avail themselves of infant formula through WIC or medical care through the public health system. Funny how highly educated people who are doctors, lawyers, and judges have no ability to envision how in disarray the public health care system was in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina (not blaming them, just when you have a major catastrophe even the best system would have major problems). People of wealth and highly educated do not live in the "projects." The reality of wealth and being able to get the care you need at the touch of your cell phone, is not the reality of the "projects/ghettos" of the USA. The USA is a diverse land. People in the USA, like to pretend that our world gives equal opportunity to all. The projects/ghettos of the USA, are a stark contradiction to that belief.

I am totally shocked that a breastfeeding advocacy organization does not have a problem with advertising for the dairy industry at their website. I imagine the silence will rein in the breastfeeding community because that is the answer to any and all problems. So cow's milk isn't considered a breast-milk substitute?? You know that is a curious thought.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Got Breastmilk" trademark and La Leche League International

There has been a licensing agreement between La Leche League International and the California Milk Processor Board. Well, that is what I read on Lactnet. I was truly blown away by this bit of news. There were concerns expressed on Lactnet that this was a violation of the WHO Code for Marketing Breast-Millk Substitutes. But most of the posts to Lactnet by those in the "know" assured Lactnet subscribers that this was not a violation of the WHO Code.
I am not an expert on the WHO Code. I don't think what La Leche League International (LLLI) did was a violation of the Code...technically. Ethically, morally what LLLI did is a violation of the trust mothers and fathers, leaders and members have put into an organization that advocates for breastfeeding. How can I say that?

First, one person, a lawyer on Lactnet, stated that the California Milk Processing Board is an organization of cow's milk dairy farmers. Nope, not so. The California Milk Processing Board is a nonprofit marketing board funded by the California dairy processors. Guess who the number one dairy processor is in the world? Yes, Nestle. The number one dairy processor in California seems to be Dean Foods. The top dairy processors in the world are Nestle, Dannon, Lactalis, Arla, Fonterra, Dairy Farmers of America, Kraft, and Dean (2006 stats). So we have LLLI entering into a licensing agreement with an organization that is essentially the marketing arm of the dairy giant multi-national corporations. In fact the executive director of the California Milk Processing Board in 2010 was Steve James, (who was or is still employed by Dean and Swiss Dairy which is owned by Dean).
"The Dean Foods Dairy Group Division is the largest processor and distributor of milk and other dairy products in the country."

A member of the BOD of LLLI on Lactnet stated that cow's milk is not part of the Code, just formula, bottles, and teats. Not. Cow's milk is a breast-milk substitute in my book. In fact I wrote in my blog a few years ago about a mother who evacuated from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She fed her infant organic cow's milk and the baby died. She and her husband were charged with murder and are in prison for life. In areas of poverty, cow's milk is often used as a substitute for breastmilk because the cost of infant formula is so high. Infants die because of this substitute.

Lactnetters were told to email LLLI, if they wanted the full story. Good luck with that suggestion, I don't get responses from the BOD of LLLI. (of course, I am subjected to the silent treatment by alot of breastfeeding advocates) I hope if anyone gets the official story of this trademark deal that they would email the official story to me. So far the explanations seem rather poor.

Obviously, LLLI doesn't practice the Nestle Boycott or they wouldn't deal with the California Milk Processing Board. Rather ironic that a breastfeeding organization will be financially supporting the marketing organization of companies like Nestle, Dannon, Dean, etc. Isn't that like shooting oneself in the foot? And for what reason is it necessary to have the trademark, Got Breastmilk? Is La Leche League now a business entity?

I am deeply saddened. I was a La Leche League leader for 10 years. My heart and soul breathed in this organization and I treasured the moments I had with moms and babies. What has gone wrong with this organization? Are they ignorant of marketing strategies of multi-national corporations? Do they not care what others may think of this licensing agreement? What made this organization think they were dealing with dairy farmers?
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain