into the Belly of the Beast

Headlines made around the world, "Breastfeeding study raises doubts over guidelines." From Malaysia to Tehran to Pakistan to Australia, to the USA; we, the people, read online or in newspapers that exclusive breastfeeding is a doubtful practice.

Well, my God, it was written in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) and it must be so. Poof, the experts are now doubtful about exclusive breastfeeding. Funny how it is that this research makes news around the world. Yeah, not so funny to those of us who have preached exclusive breastfeeding to mothers and fathers. Many of us who have worked with breastfeeding mothers and know how the introduction of foods and lots of food replaces a perfect food for infants with substances more processed, less nutritious. It often short circuits breastfeeding and leads to early or untimely weaning.

Let's dig a little deeper, who are these researchers and what did they research? The authors are Mary Fewtrell, David C Wilson, Ian Booth, and Alan Lucas and they wrote an "Analysis" in the BMJ. According to the BMJ in its instructions for authors, "analysis papers are narrative articles in which we [the BMJ] seek to inform and promote debate on important contentious medical, scientific and health policy issues." Yes, I love a good debate, clears the head of cobwebs and can often led to better understanding. So these authors determined (as well as the BMJ) that exclusive breastfeeding is debatable, a contentious issue in health care policy. Well, they sure stirred up a hornet's nest, when this narrative article hit the press world-wide. I am sure it made the baby food industry delighted. "Let there be Doubt."
Is the practice of exclusive breastfeeding harmful? No, my understanding is that exclusive breastfeeding is beneficial to mothers and babies and society at large. Mothers who are resource poor, do not have to depend on buying other foods, saving them money. Mothers who exclusively breastfeed also are able to suppress ovulation for longer times, thus preventing untimely pregnancies. The only harm that is quite obvious to me is that exclusive breastfeeding if practiced world-wide would impact the profits of the baby food/formula industry. Is this debate about health or about economics?
How can I say this? One of the authors, Alan Lucas of the UK is listed as an inventor in a US patent and a US patent application. The patent dates back to 1987 called, "Infant foods," patent # 4753926 and is owned by Farley (a baby food company in the UK). The other is a patent application called, "Baby feeding formula and system," application #20090175979 filed in 2009. this application is assigned to/owned by the University College London. It is a baby formula that reduces the long term adverse health effects of previous formulas. Supposedly it will reduce the occurrence of insulin resistance, obesity and atherosclerosis in later life.
I think it is most interesting that this researcher believes that exclusive breastfeeding is debatable. And that a university owns this particular patent application.

An interesting statistic I came upon the other day was an article from 2003 (about then) that stated that "annual patent licensing revenues forecast for that year in the USA were $500 billion. Maybe we ought to read about inventor success stories.

Patenting is an enormous business and may be the driving force of why some research makes headlines and some research is buried. We risk much as a community, a global society when we allow the Beast to devour our institutions, our research communities, our journals, our media.
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain

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