Feed the wo-orld… one baby, anyhow.

UPDATE: 4 June 2007
Jill Youse has finally responded in the Mothering forums.

We were absolutely correct.

Prolacta is skimming off 75% of milk donated by mothers for Africa, for sale and for profit within the USA.
Prolacta is “reimbursing” the International Breastmilk Project the princely sum of one dollar per ounce that they take.

Prolacta sells its breastmilk product to US intensive care units for around thirty dollars an ounce (Some published figures have been in the forties, I have chosen the lowest figure).


I’ve posted in the past about Prolacta’s for-profit breastmilk-mining enterprise in the USA, and their efforts to “partner” with “non-profit” organisations to provide an altruistic veneer for their activities.

Prolacta is now involved with the International Breastmilk Project, which ships (some) donated milk overseas to Africa, and the process is shrouded in mystery. It’s obvious to anyone involved in charity work that such an effort is destined to be unbelievably inefficient, and perhaps more than a little condescending – white wealthy women’s milk being shipped in to “save” sick black orphan babies. Much has been made of Prolacta’s “altruistic” involvement, which we have been told they “are not making a dime off”.

For an idea of scale, 5 000 ounces of milk every six months, the commitment the IBMP has made (according to The Lactivist), is about enough to feed one baby for 166 days, or six babies for 27 days. So the IBMP, with all its global publicity and PR, has reportedly committed to feed … one baby.

Donors signing up to the IBMP are required to sign a release for Prolacta to use their milk for research. The nature of this research is not elucidated in the consent form. Women I have spoken with usually believe that it must be altruistic research designed to increase the world’s knowledge of breastfeeding. In fact, venture-capitalist-funded Prolacta has an aggressive patenting program grabbing intellectual property rights to the various components of mother’s milk, with a view to formulating proprietary pharmaceutical products and (most likely) mother’s milk substitutes.

Let me make this clear: women are not paid for their milk. They donate it for free.

A number of people in the lactation support world, including me, have been questioning the transparency in the International Breastmilk Project – and answers have not been forthcoming.

Read what The Lactivist has to say. Lacking answers from the IBMP and Prolacta for her questions, she has started to do some research, and what she has managed to find isn’t promising for the altruism of this new partnership.

With the momentum this enquiry is gathering, I imagine we’ll see some further glossy PR from Prolacta sometime in the next few days. Perhaps I’ll get a few more anonymous-heckler responses to this post from an anonymous user in California, like I did the last time I said anything.

ETA: I should have run an over/under on this, shouldn’t I? Who would have picked “Less than 24 hours”? And with an added “What have YOU ever done for Africa, hmmm?” jab for bonus points.

One questioner has finally received a response from Prolacta. You can read it at Mothering. It contains an open admission by a Prolacta employee that Prolacta plan to divert and sell milk over and above the IBMP’s commitment.

“In concept, we decided that any milk received over and above our set goals would be used for premature infants here in the United States, by Prolacta Bioscience. [Snip Marketing Spiel] The human milk formulations are sold to Neonatal Intensive Care Units in hospitals [SMS] The idea behind retaining any milk above and beyond our set goals, is that the proceeds received from our human milk formulations help offset the cost of continuing to sponsor Jill’s program.”

If this is an accurate quote, not only are Prolacta exploiting mothers with misleading marketing of this Oprah-advertised “charitable” effort, which has actually committed to feed exactly ONE African baby; it is also exploiting the image of sick black African babies in order to obtain milk for sale to wealthy American infants.

Furthermore, Prolacta is milking the charity PR for all it is worth, while planning all the while to divert donations in order to cover costs. As the Lactivist notes, those numbers don’t add up; she has put what numbers she could find together, and there is a whole lot of donated milk unaccounted for at this stage.

IBMP donors are responding to this thread in Mothering making it clear that they were not made aware of this planned milk diversion when they signed up to donate milk for African babies.

Mining women’s bodies for profit is as old as capitalism. This is just the newest incarnation. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, health, social justice

Tags: , , ,

17 replies

  1. It’s enough to make you question almost any example of corporate so-called philanthropy. These buried quid-pro-quos and diverted resources just keep popping up.

  2. 1) The Lactavist site is not accurate. I am confident that the Time Magazine, Foreign Policy and other sources have more experience in gathering research than a woman who sells Nip/Suck shirts.
    2) All of the milk that has come through IBMP has gone to Africa as far as their site quotes.
    How much of my milk goes to Africa?
    A. For our first 3 shipments, 100% of the milk from our IBMP donors went to Africa. We had more applications for our 4th shipment than we ever expected, thanks to our Oprah Show appearance and the Time.com article! We sent a Mother’s Day shipment and are still receiving milk that will go towards our 5th shipment. We also are working with Prolacta to figure out a way to donate milk to critically ill babies in the United States and the extra milk they will receive over the coming months will go toward their next shipment.
    3) What are you – what is any milk banking organization doing to help? What have you done to make a difference in Africa?

  3. Mesamommy:

    What are you – what is any milk banking organization doing to help? What have you done to make a difference in Africa?

    Mesamommy, I’m not a milk banking organisation.
    Not that it’s any of your business, or relevant, but – sadly – the tiny financial contribution I was able to make to MSF a few weeks ago has likely already done more to make a difference in Africa than the IBMP’s 46 gallons of milk. If the cost of even just the milk collecting equipment were donated to more efficient, local, and sustainable charity efforts, things would be a lot, lot better off.

  4. How interesting. Mesamommy ticked the option of receiving followup comments via e-mail, but the email address provided when Mesamommy commented doesn’t exist. So, that’s that IP into the moderation bin and that subscription to comments deleted.
    Drop me an email, “mesamommy”, if you want to provide some reasonable explanation.

  5. Just discovered you, great website and extra points for including a picture of Mrs Peel.

  6. Hi bluemilk! I’ve been reading you for a little while. I can’t take credit for Emma Peel, though, that’s Tigtog’s doing (my senior cob logger).

  7. Oh, and I ran mesamommy’s IP. She’s a Qwest customer in Rochester. Sockpuppetry ahoy.

  8. I’m trying to get up to speed on this. What’s the significance of the Rochester address etc?

  9. You know what’s especially funny about the “Mesamommy” comment?
    Her quote:
    “How much of my milk goes to Africa?
    A. For our first 3 shipments, 100% of the milk from our IBMP donors went to Africa.”
    …Can no longer be found on any of the archive pages for the IBMP, and you know why? Because it’s a LIE. The third shipment only contained half of what the IBMP reported to have received from its donors. Donors donated over 6,000 oz of breastmilk, and BY THE IBMP’s OWN ADMISSION, the IBMP only sent less than 3,000 oz of breastmilk. “Mesamommy” was lying, blatantly, even as she was trying to discredit you and the Lactivist.
    Double shame on “Mesamommy,” whoever she is.


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