(photo by Jesse McClain, 2007)
One would suppose that the lactation profession would have more than a passing interest in the patenting of human milk components. I have written about patenting and human milk since 2000 and find that some members of the lactation profession believe that patents are about the future and possibly they will be interested in this area sometime in the future. (comments made to me by various members of our profession). Patents in many minds are just "inventions" that may or may not happen. The lack of interest and in some cases downright hostility seems so odd to me. Of course, there are some people who are very interested. But they seem to be vastly outnumbered by people who view patenting as rather boring and not relevant to their profession.
Yet human milk patenting reveals research and the direction in which our science is taking us. The interest in human milk components by the infant formula, pharmaceutical, and supplement industries should serve as an early warning system. These industries have the money and power to control not only the media but to influence governments. They do so on a regular basis. Thus our knowledge of human milk and its amazing capabilities is not reaching the profession who most needs to know it. It is not reaching the parents who need to know that infant formula is the grand experiment with their infants the guinea pigs for future improvements of this product. If industry, academia, and government hold the patents, the secrets of what human milk can do to diagnose and treat disease; then artificial baby milks are a part of the economic underpinning of a profitable society. Institutions teach and prepare a society to use infant formula. Breastfeeding becomes impossible on a variety of levels because institutions have no clue of the value of breastfeeding.
Formula feeding is a direct route to all sorts of health problems from infancy into adulthood. Formula fed infants are immune deficient. They are at risk for all sorts of diseases. A company called Agresearch Limited of New Zealand has a patent called "Processes for production of immunoglobulin A in milk," (patent # 6616927) filed in 2000 by inventors Hodgkinson et al.
They state that IgG is the major immunoglobulin in ruminant mammary secretions, but IgA is the predominant immunoglobulin in human milk.
"Immunoglobulin A (IgA) participates in the clearance of pathogenic bacterial, viral or parasitical organisms and a variety of ingested or inhaled antigens from the mucosal surfaces by nertralizing toxins and viral particles, inhibiting adherence of bacterial pathogens and preventing olonization and penetration of mucosal surfaces by pathogenic microorganisms."
"Formulations containg high levels of IgA specific for infants is one application. Infants are often very susceptible to enteric gastric disorders. Special formulations containing anti-cryptosporidiosis IgA for protection against cryptosporidiosis infection in HIV and AIDS patients..."
Thus instead of preserving, protecting breastfeeding, our society will create the IgA for infant formula (genetically engineered of course). My water bill has often included a warning about their inability to inactivate cryptosporidium, thus those who are immune deficient...like HIV/AIDS patients and formula-fed infants are advised against using tap water. Supporting breastfeeding is about helping humans build an immune system. But we have created medical protocol that often sabotages babies from building a proper immune system. And instead we create products that imitate human milk components. One system is costly to the consumer but enriches industries. The decision to use a more costly and questionable science (the science of genetic engineering) is based on patenting, on secrecy. And the people who should be aware of what is happening, float on the river of denial.