IBCLCs & intellectual property rights

photo by Jessie McClain
Like all professions, international board certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) have a code of ethics. The 25th and last tenet states, "Understand, recognize, respect, and acknowledge intellectual property rights, including but not limited to copyrights (which apply to written material, photographs, slides, illustrations, etc), trademarks, service marks, and patents." I am fascinated by this tenet. Why is it a necessary ethical code for this profession? Who proposed this tenet? We already have copyright laws. Why intellectual property rights (IPRs)? Whose IPR's do we acknowledge? USA? Australia? Japan? European? Canadian? World? Why is an international organization asking its profession to respect the monopolization of ideas? Breastfeeding is about preserving a tradition, our human heritage. Yet, a profession devoted to preserving breastfeeding, is requiring its members to acknowledge the monopoly rights of companies like Prolacta, who are placing claims on a "standardized" form of human milk or Medela's claim to a human milk fortifier. Even worse, our code of ethics means we must respect Nestle's claims to components of human milk. There is a long list of various companies and various claims on human milk and/or its genetic constructs. What ethical right do corporations have making such claims of ownership? And how are we to understand the rights of the US government making similiar claims?
Where are the educational courses or Breastfeeding Conferences on this subject? The topic of human milk patenting was banned on a professional listserve. So we are to acknowlege patents but not discuss them. How does one recognize and respect something, when one is ignorant of their existence? It is the catch-22 of a profession.
There are some people who believe that IPRs are a "coercive tool," the "privatization of knowledge," and a way for "corporations to control food and health." [well-known activist, Vandana Shiva of India] Breastfeeding is independence, a tradition, our inheritance. It is about feeding a baby without dependence upon the baby milk industry and less dependence on the medical industry. Yet as the claims on human milk stack up, breastfeeding is becoming a lost tradition. We value human milk but not breastfeeding. We value the product because it can make money. But not the human connection. The excitement about the patenting of human milk should be tempered with the reality that this is about control of a natural resouce, breastfeeding. Control means keeping people ignorant of the corporate interest in human milk.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain :)

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