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The International Breastfeeding Symbol » 2007 » October

Archive for October 2007


A Philosophical Question

October 20th, 2007 by MamaBear

If you know a person is lying and making lots of money by lying, but they’re also doing a little bit of good within all that lying, does it make the lying O.K.? This is an honest, open-ended question, which I still have no answer for.

Now, completely different topic (lest you think that question above has anything to do with what I’m about to report)… Jill Youse is in the news again! She is ABC News’ Person of the Week this week. I almost died… Hyperventilating with laughter… When I saw that. Congratulations, Jill!

You know what I found really funny about the second ABC News report on the International Breast Milk Project? There was NO mention of a few really important details (which makes me think ABC News either did a sloppy job with this one or that these important details were deliberately not mentioned — why, I don’t know; could be for any number of reasons):

  1. Prolacta gets at least 75% of the milk donated to the International Breast Milk Project. According to the IBMP website, this 75% of the donated breastmilk is exchanged for a $1/ounce “donation” from Prolacta (in other words, Prolacta buys at least 75% of whatever is donated to the IBMP for $1/ounce). On an older version of the IBMP website, it used to say that 100% of this money would be donated to various African outreach organizations (like the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya). None of that money was actually donated, and then when I (and another blogger) started asking questions about the “100%,” the IBMP website was changed to say that, actually, some of that money would go to “operational expenses” within the IBMP. How convenient. It was vague enough that now there’s no telling how much will go to “operational expenses” within the U.S. and how much will go to Africa.
  2. The money received by the International Breast Milk Project in exchange for breastmilk, which, to date, is estimated at over $50,000 (probably well over double that figure by now, given how much time has elapsed, but let’s be conservative), was not mentioned in the ABC News report at all. The money the IBMP claims to have sent to Africa on its “September Update” page was donated privately, some of it by Prolacta’s other milk funnel, The National Milk Bank, to the IBMP. From the IBMP website:

    “Because of your generosity, in addition to shipping thousands of ounces of donor milk to iThemba Lethu in Durban, South Africa, we have donated $13,000 to the Lewa Children’s Home in Kenya, another $15,000 for clean water and health care projects in Tanzania, and $5,100 for hospital equipment in Cameroon through Dr. Peter McCormick’s Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust.”

    All that money the IBMP allegedly sent to Africa? The IBMP sent it before May 31, 2007… Before the IBMP allegedly started receiving money from Prolacta in exchange for the milk (according to Jill Youse, through email correspondence). All that money was privately donated, some of it from the National Milk Bank (again, according to Jill Youse, through email). Any money the IBMP made and donated after May 31, 2007, there is STILL no mention of anywhere, not on the IBMP website, not from Jill Youse through email correspondence (I asked, and last I heard from her, none of the money had been donated yet), and certainly not in the ABC News report. I do not know if the money has already been donated, or if it’s being put in a bank awaiting donation for the “early 2008″ construction of the Lewa Children’s Home clinic, or if it’s being used mostly to cover “operational expenses” now. Speaking of “operational expenses,” it’s difficult to know what percentage of the money made from selling milk to Prolacta will make its way to Africa. The ABC News report didn’t even mention money, so it’s not like I’m looking at ABC News as a reliable IBMP update information source, kwim?

  3. The ABC News report did not mention the dates of the milk shipments, or even how many total shipments to Africa have been made since the IBMP was founded. According to my tally (which was established by calling South Africa and asking Penny Reimers at iThemba Lethu how many shipments she received), there have been a total of four shipments already sent to Africa, not including the one that allegedly will be done now. If the 50,000+ ounces of breastmilk actually make their way to Africa (which I am confident that they will, since it’s so highly publicized), that will bring the grand total of shipments the IBMP has made since April 28, 2006 (the date of the first shipment) to FIVE (please, Anna Coutsoudis or Penny Reimers, if you can confirm or correct this, write me and I will). The total number of ounces donated by the IBMP to Africa would then be around 62,000 ounces in a year and six months. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, in absolute terms it is a lot, but if you compare it to the amount of milk the IBMP has received from generous breast milk donors, it’s actually a pittance. The IBMP received an estimated 65,000 ounces of breastmilk from its generous donors in just two months (June and July 2007)!!! From the IBMP “August 2007 Update” letter: “In June, we collected over 30,000 ounces of milk, and in July we collected over 35,000 ounces of milk.” If you assume the IBMP only receives half the lowest amount (30,000 ounces) for August and September, that’s an additional 30,000 ounces, also not going to Africa (because, according to the IBMP, the 50,000+ ounces of milk going to Africa right now were all donated before May 31, 2007). Details, details…

The first ABC News report on the International Breast Milk Project (aired October 4, 2006) also had a few important details missing. For instance, the report aired on October 4, 2006 and there was no mention of Prolacta. The milk that arrived in Africa for the second shipment (the one filmed in the first ABC News report) was raw breastmilk, unpasteurized. That shipment was delivered free by DHL. Prolacta had not officially partnered with the IBMP when the footage was filmed, but the partnership with Prolacta was in effect by the time the report aired (October 4, 2006). Oh, but it’s just details, and nobody will notice, right? Nobody except anyone who’s paying attention.

Look, I have nothing against a project that sends breastmilk to African orphans. Who would have a problem with a program like that? It’s altruism; it’s a beautiful, touching concept. More importantly, it gets people talking about (and therefore, normalizing) breastmilk (and by proxy, breastfeeding and lactation). Does the IBMP do more harm than good? I don’t know. More good than harm? Hard to say. Does the IBMP do some good in the world? Clearly, yes, in many ways. Is the harm is does worth it? I don’t know. That’s the part I have trouble with. The partnership with Prolacta cannot be ignored, and is not without negative consequences.

My only point in writing any of what I write is so that people become more informed and more aware of what’s really going on behind the scenes. If you have all the information at your disposal and you still feel like it’s a net benefit to donate to the International Breast Milk Project (and you are fully aware that if you do, you will forfeit any rights to your milk and that the majority of your milk — very likely ALL of it, statistically speaking — will actually go to Prolacta and be sold for a profit here in the United States and NOT make its way to Africa), I have NO problem with that. The part I have a problem with is the NOT knowing. The part that bothers me is that some really generous women will donate their breastmilk thinking that what they’re signing up for is not what they’re actually signing up for. …If you catch my drift.

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In another galaxy… Far, far away… Oh, wait.

October 17th, 2007 by MamaBear

Imagine this: You’ve just had a baby. It was a wonderful homebirth, very peaceful. Breastfeeding was established the way it should be, without interference. You were never needlessly separated from your baby. About five weeks go by, and you get a phone call from a government worker who looks over your child’s birth certificate and tells you you forgot to get your baby’s blood drawn for metabolic testing. “Oh that,” you say, “I didn’t forget. I have no plans to get my baby’s blood drawn. Thanks anyway. Good-bye.” For that, guess what happens? Child Protective Services shows up at your door and takes your baby away.

O-kaaaay. (NOT.)

So your baby is kidnapped from you (but it’s legal ’cause the government is doing it) and taken to some stranger’s house, a foster home. In order to make sure your baby is still being breastfed, you visit the foster home and breastfeed your baby — not the government’s baby and not the foster home’s baby, but YOUR baby — the one you gestated for nine months and then birthed, with much pain, from your body. And then the judge in charge of hearing your case finds out that you are spending time with your baby and forbids you from visiting YOUR baby for the purposes of breastfeeding because, as every ignoramus knows (and I mean “ignoramus” literally), formula is “just as good.” And that silly breastfeeding thing, eh, that’s not so important to a baby’s health and emotional well-being, right? Not to mention, you must not love your baby if you don’t make him bleed for an arbitrary test imposed by the government, so you should be punished and not have any right to see him. …WTF?

Can anybody else see what’s wrong with this picture?

This actually happened to Nebraska resident Mary Anaya and her family. The test in question, a test considered invaluable by medical and government authorities for determining whether or not a child is born with rare metabolic disorders like sickle cell anemia and phenylketonuria, required a blood draw. The Anayas rejected the test because they consider blood to be sacred. Most other states allow parents to reject the testing for personal preference or religious reasons, but Nebraska does not.

Whatever the Anayas’ reasons for not wanting their child to get blood drawn (and regardless of my own personal opinion on getting this test done), it is unconscionable for the government, for any institution, to step in and remove a child from a family’s home when it is clear it is more harmful to the child to be removed than it is to just let him live with his family. Furthermore, okay, so after baby was already removed from his rightful home and forced to have his blood drawn anyway (which was presumably the whole point of taking him into state custody in the first place)…why, then, was the judge so callous about not letting the mother feed her own child??? I wonder how so many people in the Nebraska Supreme Court could have screwed this one up so badly. It’s a no-brainer, but I guess this means these people have no brains? Or no heart? I would imagine there have got to be far worse child abuse cases in the state of Nebraska for them to waste so many precious resources on this one, a case where it’s clear no abuse has taken place.

You know what would solve this? A provision in Nebraska’s law that would allow parents to sign an agreement with the government freeing the state of Nebraska from any legal liability arising from the development of an undiagnosed metabolic disorder, if the parents wish to forgo the screening. Problem solved. The end. Why can’t Nebraska state law just do that? Or is the prospect of tormenting future breastfeeding moms and their families way more satisfying than finding a real solution? Assholes.

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Breastfeeding on Sesame Street in 1977

October 15th, 2007 by MamaBear

Someone on MDC posted and linked to this wonderful video from Sesame Street in 1977. It’s so sweet and so wonderful I can’t NOT embed it here. Enjoy! :)

(And many, many thanks to the kind soul who posted it on YouTube. Whoever you are, THANK YOU for sharing this with the world.)

ETA: The woman who is breastfeeding her son is Buffy Sainte-Marie.  (Thanks, Buffy, wherever you are. You make the world a better place.)

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The “Women’s Choice” Myth

October 13th, 2007 by MamaBear

This post is not about abortion. If you want to read about abortion, Google “abortion,” but don’t expect to read about it in this post. Nope, this post is about another “women’s ‘choice’” issue.

Ever heard of babyfeedingchoice.org? Me neither, before about five minutes ago. But after a quick perusal, I now know everything I need to know about it. Babyfeedingchoice.org is a website created by the International Formula Council (an infant formula lobby group). In it, you will find much lip-service about how “breastfeeding is best,” blah blah blah more politics, etc. They have a very craftily worded page dedicated entirely to “Support for Breastfeeding.” They have another one totally about “mother guilt.” (How’s that for political?) …But the main crux of the site is to convince the world that women WANT to feed their babies formula, and by golly, they have every right to, because women have rights! And freedom! And women need their formula! They WANT it! They ask for it! (Sounds kinda like what you hear some rapists say when speaking of their victims, coincidentally enough. Or is it a coincidence…?)

Let me be crystal clear about something: of course women have the right to feed their babies formula if they want to. But I’m going to spell this out just in case my point is lost: the formula “choice” debate isn’t about women’s freedom. It isn’t about feminism. It isn’t about women’s rights or even consumer advocacy. Women will always have the choice to feed their infants infant formula. Babyfeedingchoice.org isn’t about that, though, as much as they want everyone to believe it is. It’s really about rallying support for formula manufacturers in their quest to disenfranchise women and infants of their rightful biological norm by convincing everybody that what women really want (and spend all their time thinking about, apparently) are those “awesome” infant formula gift bags in hospitals. After all, everybody else is doing it. And furthermore, [insert some other contrived reasons here].

To help illustrate this, they have a whole page dedicated to “What do moms say?” Here’s a little gem from that page: “…mothers approve of receiving infant formula samples, and they do not believe samples have much, if any, impact on a mother’s decision as to what to feed her baby…” Replace “infant formula samples” with “free packs of cigarettes” and “as to what to feed her baby” with “to smoke” and see how it sounds: “…mothers approve of receiving free packs of cigarettes, and they do not believe the samples have much, if any impact on a mother’s decision to smoke…” Hmmm…

The thing is, marketing research demonstrates definitively that receiving free anything impacts consumer use, even if the consumer doesn’t believe he/she is being influenced by the free item(s). That’s why companies do it — because it works! They wouldn’t waste their time and precious money on paying to distribute free samples if they didn’t think it was going to result in returns ($$$) on their investment. It doesn’t really matter what the product is, if you receive a free sample of it, you’re more likely to try it (and if you’re a health care worker, you’re more likely to recommend it). For a lot of products, that’s not necessarily harmful, but for a product like infant formula (or cigarettes, or pharmaceuticals), it can (and often does) have disastrous consequences to the consumers. It does not matter if the consumer perceives the sample doesn’t affect them; the fact remains that receiving free samples DOES affect resultant consumer behavior.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that formula manufacturers are very well-versed and well-educated about breastfeeding. Formula executives learn about it, their companies even pay for research on it, so they “know their enemy” (their enemy being their most threatening competitor: breastfeeding) very, very well. Formula executives (those in charge of making marketing decisions) are very well aware of the deleterious impact on breastfeeding of interfering with a newly born infant’s suckling reflex by introducing an artificial nipple, and of separating infants from their mothers. They use this knowledge to push baby-unfriendly hospital practices — which they know will sabotage breastfeeding — to get the majority of their customers by marketing through the health care industry. Magazine and television ads are just marketing icing on the cake for them. The marketing cake for formula corporations is: the samples handed out by doctors during prenatal check-ups, the routine formula bottle-feeding of newborns separated from their mothers that hospital workers engage in every day in hospital nurseries, the free formula gift packs given to exhausted, convalescing postpartum moms, and last but not least, WIC program contracts with formula manufacturers which ultimately encourage formula use (WIC is responsible for over 50% of formula sales in the United States (PDF)). That’s where formula manufacturers get the bulk of their customers, ironically from the very people that should be encouraging breastfeeding the most! Formula executives push to short-circuit the breastfeeding learning process from the very beginning, encouraging mother-baby separation immediately after birth because it ensures them sales in the future — at least a year’s worth of formula sales, per baby! That is a lot of money, and whatever it cost the formula companies to provide the free samples in the hospital, per baby, is easily a write-off, after the first week or two the baby’s parents buy formula. The rest is pure profit (minus the tiny cost of manufacture and transport — miniscule in comparison to the profit), since formula is so grossly overpriced (even the “cheap” powdered stuff).

Recommended reading:

So now you know. Babyfeedingchoice.org is full of marketing lies designed to convince the general public that the formula industry should be allowed to keep marketing to health professionals by fighting to keep formula samples in hospitals.

There is another website also full of lies you should know about: Momsfeedingfreedom.com. It is also paid for by the International Formula Council to further convince the general public that marketing through health care workers (doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and WIC employees) is not only OK, but that moms WANT it, and that therefore this woman-unfriendly and baby-unfriendly status quo should be maintained. Absurd, ridiculous, and completely diabolical are words that come to mind when I see websites like this, but what can you do? At the very least they’re open about their funding, which is more than I can say about some researchers who conduct infant feeding studies.

Actually, that’s a good question: What can we do as lactivists to make things better for other moms and their babies? At the very least, we should work hard to get the Breastfeeding Promotion Act passed, which is something every American over the age of 18 can do (link provides ideas and plans of action). Beyond that, it is possible we can beat formula companies at their own game. They “know their enemy.” We should (at least) do the same, so that we become aware of what we’re up against. Knowledge is power. Let’s put the knowledge (power) about destructive formula marketing practices in the hands of women so that they can make truly informed, REAL choices for themselves and their babies. Let’s promote real breastfeeding education so that the formula pushers don’t win.

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Why I Do Not Recommend Using Powdered Infant Formula

October 11th, 2007 by MamaBear

I’ve used powdered infant formula maybe two times in the entire time I have supplemented for my daughter (I have supplemented with formula for over a year, out of necessity due to breast hypoplasia and breast surgeries). The main reason why I was never keen on using powdered formula is because of the theory of free radical damage from using a powdered reconstituted animal product. Now, I don’t know if the ready-to-feed and concentrate forms of infant formula I’ve been using contain reconstituted powder in them. If they do, I’ll probably feel like the world’s biggest schmuck. But the more research I do on the subject, the more I realize the oxysterol powdered-milk theory isn’t the only reason why using powdered infant formula isn’t a good idea.

Powdered infant formula is the most affordable form of infant formula there is. Every other form (concentrate, ready-to-feed cans and bottles) is significantly more expensive. This is why most people who for whatever reason decide not to continue lactation (or who can’t easily lactate because of a physical barrier which impedes it — think adoption or breast surgery) usually decide to buy powdered infant formula. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than the already prepared stuff. Many people who would otherwise be able to breastfeed or pump milk for their babies for a lot less money (the price of renting a hospital grade breast pump can be as little as $35/month, or less; the service of a lactation consultant is often cheaper than the cost of one month’s supply of formula), instead buy the powdered infant formula because it is erroneously perceived to be a “cheap” and “good” alternative. There are many barriers impeding the success of breastfeeding for new mothers, but one of the biggest ones is the fact that it is easier (and less taboo) to learn how to prepare infant formula than it is to learn how to breastfeed or pump (also, figuring out how to prepare infant formula can be done easily in public; figuring out how to breastfeed, topless, for example, is unfortunately not acceptable in most places — and trying to figure out how to breastfeed while wearing clothing is like trying to figure out how to swim by practicing in a bathtub — it’s not very effective). Formula companies exploit this whenever they can, seducing women with the promise that formula is “just as good” for their baby and much easier to figure out than breastfeeding in the middle of the night when holding a screaming, hungry newborn and without anyone to help you.

Unfortunately for most mothers, formula companies don’t actually care (in deed; they always pay lip-service to “caring”) if the product is prepared properly or if it’s even safe before preparation. They feel that’s “not their problem,” legally speaking, so they sleep easily at night, even if infants who use their mislabeled products die.

I do not recommend infant formula use at all unless there’s no other feasible option, but I especially do not recommend the use of powdered infant formula. Powdered infant formula is not sterile. Infants have already died from contaminated powdered infant formula (even when prepared according to the manufacturer’s directions). The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration advise against the use of powdered formula in hospitals because of the contamination risk it poses. It is impossible to sterilize powdered formula in the factory in the same way that liquid formulas can be. Furthermore, if preparing the powdered formula with boiling water to kill the bacteria, some of the vitamins in the formula may be damaged beyond even what the sterilized liquid formulas undergo.

Even when prepared according to the manufacturer’s directions, however, powdered formula never dissolves completely. You can shake the powdered formula with the proper amount of water in a baby bottle until the cows come home (this is what the directions on most if not all powdered infant formulas say to do — shake the measured scoops and water together in the baby bottle), and you will inevitably be left with undissolved lumps in the resultant liquid mixture. These lumps mean the concentration of formula in the liquid is less than it should be, and the lumps often stick to the sides of the baby bottle and never get consumed like they’re supposed to.

In addition to powdered infant formula not being sterile, the possibility of free-radical cell damage from oxidized cholesterol/fat from the formula powder, and the problem with the formation of lumps upon reconstitution, there is also the very real possibility that the directions on the can won’t be followed properly. Most women in the third world don’t have schooling beyond primary school. Consequently, a basic understanding of weights and measures (like liquid measure and powdered formula scoop measure) is often not understood very well. This sometimes leads to formula being prepared at too high of a concentration if the powder is measured before the water is, or it sometimes results in a too-dilute preparation if the woman in question is trying to save money by using less powder than is called for on the can. A too-concentrated formula can lead to dehydration, renal failure, and death in the infant. A too-dilute concentration of formula can lead to malnutrition and a lifetime of health problems, in addition to the possibility of eventual death by starvation. While it may seem “affordable” in the short-run to provide a third-world woman with “free” formula for a time, in the long-run, the results are disastrous and not worth the true, human, cost. The woman dries up, no longer produces milk with her own body, and becomes needlessly dependent on a far inferior, even dangerous product. It becomes like a drug, then. A woman will do anything to get more of it for her baby, because it’s the only feasible option left to her for nourishing her baby once her milk dries up (her milk will start drying up as soon as she starts supplementing with formula if she does not provide stimulation to her breasts — often the woman is not aware of this consequence because not many people are aware of the supply-and-demand aspect of breastfeeding). Over more than one generation, this dependence on infant formula will lead to a loss of knowledge of breastfeeding for a given society (and increased breastfeeding ignorance), leading more women through the generations to become dependent on an external, purchased product rather than trusting their own bodies. It is unconscionable to provide formula to third world countries for free for these and other reasons. It’s also immoral to encourage people to buy “cheap” powdered infant formula when the truth is that the female body can produce a far superior (and practically free!) product, if only the proper education were disseminated about it.

Maybe if everyone had to pay the price of liquid formulas when choosing to formula feed (which is what would happen if everyone knew just how inferior — and even dangerous — powdered formula was), perhaps then breastfeeding and pumping wouldn’t be seen as “gross” and “too much trouble.” It would definitely incentivate a lot of people who erroneously believe formula and breastmilk are “just as good” as one another to at least try breastfeeding and/or pumping before the “easier” formula-feeding, and it may motivate new moms to stick it through the tough times for longer. At the very least, if no one were to buy the powdered formula anymore, it would incentivate those in the formula industry to charge less for their liquid “premium” products, which would be better for everybody — (except, of course, for formula manufacturers and their shareholders).

Formula does not have to be part of the cost of raising a child. It’s not a necessity like a car seat is (for those people who own a car). It is an artificially created need, artificially created through baby-unfriendly hospital policies, aggressive marketing tactics, and the unofficial endorsement of many health care workers (doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, some midwives, etc.) the world over. This artificially created need causes needless illness and death, and it’s all for the sake of making a buck. It is never about the health and well-being of mother and child.

The use of infant formula (homemade or commercially prepared) should be the option of last resort, to be used after all other (better) options have been exhausted. Breastfeeding should always be the first choice, except for the very rare case of severe galactosemia. Powdered infant formula should just never be used at all — babies have better options no matter where in the world they are; much of the time, it’s just a matter of allowing breastfeeding to succeed. Too often breastfeeding is sabotaged by the inappropriate introduction of formula by health care workers, misinformed and exhausted postpartum moms, or well-meaning but misguided family members.

Due to all the health risks associated with consumption of any type of formula, moreover, it is completely inappropriate for any hospital employee or volunteer to feed newborns infant formula routinely unless the mother of the infant is dead, has abandoned the baby, is HIV+, or does not have functioning breasts. And actually, for extreme cases like that, the infants involved should be fed donor breastmilk whenever it’s available (in the case of an HIV+ mom, the mom can try manually expressing her milk into a clean container and flash-pasteurizing the milk to kill the HIV before feeding it to her infant — it would still be far superior to any formula). Funny that if breastfeeding were considered as routine as formula-feeding is now, more healthy donor milk would be available to feed babies whose mothers cannot… Imagine that: A world where every baby is fed breastmilk, and where no corporation is profiting off the sale of human milk. That would surely be a beautiful thing.

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Long Live The Zoops!

October 10th, 2007 by MamaBear

Hathor the CowGoddess made a YouTube version of her original Story of the Zoops. From the first moment I read the story, I thought it was brilliant, and believed it would become a cult classic among breastfeeding advocates everywhere (I still do, now more than ever). With her permission, I’ve embedded the video version here, for your viewing pleasure:

Enjoy! :)

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The Story of Ranjit Chandra

October 2nd, 2007 by MamaBear

In order to understand the present and what the future might bring, it’s crucial to be aware of what’s happened in the past. History has a tendency of repeating itself, though not always in exactly the same way.

I’m going to relate to you now the story of Ranjit Chandra. Ranjit Chandra was a world renowned professor at Memorial University at Newfoundland. He is rumored to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, twice. He was the recipient of the prestigious Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor, for a career of medical and scientific excellence. He has been lauded for his brilliance and intellect for over three decades.

There’s a lot of information the Order of Canada probably didn’t know about Ranjit Chandra when they issued that honor.

In 1989 (possibly 1988), Ranjit Chandra accepted money (estimated at over $50,000) from Nestlé to fake a study on their new infant formula, Good Start. (There is no hard proof of this — no one has found a check stub with “Nestlé” made out to Ranjit Chandra –, but there is overwhelming reason to support it, including testimony from Marilyn Harvey, Chandra’s assistant and whistleblower who was in charge of gathering participants for the study.)

Good Start was a formula previously owned by Carnation, but Carnation got bought out by Nestlé in 1989 and Nestlé wanted a way to draw attention to their new investment by citing “scientific” studies in their promotional material that claimed it protected babies against allergies when compared to another formula (Similac). They were planning on making these allergy-protection claims already, but the FDA wanted scientific studies to back these claims up by a certain deadline, so Nestlé “made” the “science” happen toward this end by bribing Chandra.

Those studies were never actually conducted, but they were written up by Chandra and published in several medical journals. They remain there to this day, even though they have been debunked by other scientists, including researchers who were members of a secret panel formed by Memorial University in 1994 (a committee created specifically to address the possibility of scientific fraud committed by Dr. Chandra). Anyone visiting PubMed.org and typing “Ranjit Chandra” and “breastfeeding” and/or “formula” will find studies by him, more than likely faked. Here’s another one that’s fake. It’s a five-year follow-up to the first fake study, which never had any data gathered for it. Notice how there’s nothing denigrating about breastfeeding in either study. (Both studies can be reasonably assumed to have been paid for by Nestlé; the first one definitely was, and the second one — well, Chandra would have had no reason to write it at all if he hadn’t been paid for it, too, so that’s why I think the second one was paid for by Nestle as well.) Not denigrating breastfeeding is not a guarantee that a given study is truthful. These studies Chandra faked, while they say nothing bad about breastfeeding, DO denigrate Similac, a formula competitor, and that got Similac’s attention. A representative of Similac, Mark Masor, investigated to see what the problem was, and he discovered that fraud had been committed.

Here’s some food for thought: If Nestlé should bribe a researcher to denigrate breastfeeding, where is the breastfeeding representative that will investigate the researcher on behalf of lactating mothers? Where is the Mark Masor of breastfeeding? Oh, I see, breastfeeding has no commercial representative to defend it. Breastfeeding has no advocate because breast milk is freely produced by a woman’s body and not by companies that foster perpetual dependence on their product. So, if you think the results of a breastfeeding study (or any kind of study) are suspect, your best bet is to do your own investigating to see if the study is legitimate or not. Remember, even if Ranjit Chandra had collected data for his studies, they would still be fraudulent, because he accepted more money from Nestlé than he did from Similac, so he was inclined to see things Nestlé’s way (hint, hint) at the expense of Similac (Similac did pay Ranjit Chandra $50,000 to conduct a study for them, but apparently Nestlé paid more because Chandra told Masor that Similac didn’t pay him “enough” to “do it right.”)

In probably the most ironic twist ever (in retrospect) one of the people who spoke out against Ranjit Chandra was a certain Dr. Michael Kramer from McGill University. He wrote a three page paper in 1997 to Health Canada (the Canadian government), explaining why one of Chandra’s studies was suspect (for one thing, the control group was almost identical to the experimental group, which in reality is unheard of in a study like the one Chandra was conducting — a virtual impossibility in the real world). The reply Kramer received was that Health Canada could do nothing because it hadn’t funded the study. Kramer thought about pushing it further, but in his own words, “…it just didn’t seem like it was worth doing,” so he dropped it. Lesson learned = it’s too much trouble for any individual acting alone against a prestigious scientist to get the scientist’s studies investigated, even if there is reason to suspect that said prestigious scientist might have committed fraud. At least, that’s what I’m learning from all of this.

From 1989 (when Chandra published the fraudulent Nestlé Good Start study) to 1997 (when Dr. Michael Kramer, independent of Marilyn Harvey’s testimony, took the initiative to report Chandra), is eight long years. Even though Memorial University, Health Canada, Dr. Michael Kramer, Nestlé, Similac, and Marilyn Harvey all knew Dr. Ranjit Chandra was a phony, nobody outside the world of academia was alerted to anything about this. And the Good Start studies remained in circulation. Did I mention they still are? Did I forget to mention that the original fake study has been cited in 83 publications? And that the fake five-year follow-up to the original fake study has been cited in 137 publications? The term “cited,” for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, means “referenced.” These studies are being used, right now, as references to help back up other studies’ claims. The “findings” from them are being taken seriously. Most of the scientific community, even though Ranjit Chandra has been proven without a shadow of a doubt to be a fraud, is not aware that these studies they are citing (or have cited) are fakes. So, imagine if they had actually contained data! Wow, then they’d probably be considered legitimate, right? I guess if you’re not looking deeply enough, yes. But I know better than to trust a study’s conclusions just because it contains real data. It’s not only important to find out if there is data for a particular study. Yes, that’s important. But it’s also important to find out what a researcher’s motivations for conducting a particular study are, what conclusions the researcher is motivated to come to, as well as a thorough examination of the data (which, let’s be real, what government entity has time for that?).

It wasn’t until 2001, when Chandra tried to publish another fraudulent study (not about formula or breastfeeding) in the British Medical Journal, that he caught the attention of then-editor Richard Smith. Smith was alerted to the suspicious study upon its submission by one of his astute statistical reviewers, who said the study had “…all the hallmarks of being entirely invented.” The study was eventually rejected by the BMJ after Smith tried to get in contact with Chandra numerous times and got nothing but vague circuitous answers to his questions (or no answers at all). That didn’t deter Chandra. He submitted the fake study to another journal, Nutrition, and got it published. It stayed published there until 2005, when it was finally retracted due to the overwhelming suspiciousness of the findings (still no hard evidence, though).

It is well-accepted now in certain circles (though not all of academia, unfortunately) that all Ranjit Chandra’s work is under suspicion. It’s hard to know which studies were faked or otherwise compromised by outside interests (bribes and/or pilfered grant money), and which ones were legitimate. Was Ranjit Chandra always a faker? Probably not. He probably published some real studies in his lifetime. It’s even possible that most of the studies he published (upwards of 200) were legitimate. There’s no way of knowing without examining every single one (a daunting task for anyone), but with the conflict-of-interest of receiving money from corporate interests to fake studies (like Nestlé, who apparently “outbid” Similac in the Good Start study), it’s reasonable to conclude that none of his studies (for which he is the principle investigator) should be cited in future publications, and that furthermore, none of the studies he’s published after 1989 should be taken seriously. But they are.

From where I stand, it looks like Nestlé won’t stop trying to convince the world that formula doesn’t cause allergies (or that breastfeeding provides “no protective effect” against allergies when compared to formula — eh, same thing). I, for one, am not buying it. Though I am loathe to use analogies because they are incomplete, I will use one here: I will be the Mark Masor of breastfeeding, even if no one else will be. If I suspect that a study was conducted improperly or if there’s even a hint of a whiff of conflict-of-interest, I will come after you like it’s a murder investigation, because as far as I’m concerned, with formula manufacturers and their marketing tactics, that’s exactly what it is. If no fraud has been committed, if you’ve got nothing to hide, I’ll figure that out — I can give the benefit of the doubt like the best of them. I’ll probably find out either way, so make sure, all you researchers out there (principle investigators, especially), that you cross your t’s and dot your i’s, because I am watching your breastfeeding study “results” and your motivations behind them like a hawk.

By the way, anyone wondering what disciplinary action was taken against Chandra, after so many people in academia discovered that he was a fraud and had taken money from Nestlé to fake formula studies? Well, in a nutshell, none. Nothing happened to him. He was not arrested. He was not fired. He was not even fined or formally reprimanded by anyone. He retired from Memorial University in 2002, just around the time the shit started hitting the fan when the BMJ started asking questions. He moved to Switzerland (or India) and hasn’t really been heard from since. He’s still selling his nutritional supplements, the same ones he claimed in his fake study could cure dementia (the one that got the BMJ’s attention).

You know what I would think if I were a Canadian researcher upon witnessing all of this academic and scientific corruption (circa 1997-2002)? Well, first I’d think: “Man, I work and work and work and am an honest person, an honest researcher, and I don’t make more than $150,000/year. Whereas, this asshole (Chandra) is a dishonest fuckwad, fakes data, and has over $2 million in secret accounts all over the world, in addition to the salary he gets from the university… And NOTHING happens to him!” This would lead me to think one of two things (1) Fuck it, I’ll make some real money too, then, if it’s so easy… But I’ll do it better than him to preserve my reputation and good name and I won’t get caught because I’ll use real data; or (2) C’est la vie. Just ’cause he’s unprincipled doesn’t mean I have to be, no matter how much money is to be made.

I am making it my job to see which of those two conclusions is the right one. Dear readers, you don’t have to join me in my quest. I’m not asking for help (though I welcome any and all kinds of questions, leads, etc., even if they disagree with or contradict my own findings). If you have nothing to contribute, just sit back and enjoy the ride. I think it’s going to be an interesting one.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 1st, 2007 by MamaBear

Breast cancer. It’s one of women’s greatest fears, right up there with “rape” and “death of a child.” It’s not just bad ’cause it could kill you. It’s bad ’cause it could leave you disfigured for life. Women take great pride in their appearance, and losing a breast, or having one scarred by surgery (as I have; both breasts in case you were wondering), is a very real threat to an individual woman’s femininity.

Breast cancer is a subject very near and dear to my heart, for reasons I don’t want to talk about just yet, but I can assure you I take it very personally. It’s one of the reasons why I am such an ardent breastfeeding advocate and always will be. As long as I’m alive, I will use every ounce of my strength to make sure accurate information about breastfeeding and breast health is disseminated.

I am kind of sickened, though, by the lip-service I see for “breast cancer awareness” without real awareness of this disease. I am torn, because on the one hand, any kind of awareness brought to breast cancer is a good thing, but on the other hand, a lot of people are deluded into thinking that breast cancer awareness means slapping on a pink ribbon and calling it a day.

Most of the pink-ribbon paraphernalia that touts “Breast Cancer Awareness” don’t actually support breast cancer research, btw. What they really support is the person who sold them. (I sell all kinds of products in my two stores, but I make sure that a significant percentage of what I make goes to organizations that fund truly breastfeeding-friendly organizations. Otherwise, I’d feel kind of slimy asking for your money.)

Breast cancer awareness should always include the awareness of breastfeeding’s ability to help prevent breast cancer. The ability of breastfeeding, particularly extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding that extends beyond a year), to reduce the incidence of breast cancer, is amazing. Unfortunately, this kind of information is sorely lacking from a lot of mainstream literature for breast cancer awareness. There are several reasons for it, but it can be boiled down to one simple principle: people who have the power to make this information available to the masses have little incentive to disseminate that information (or they aren’t made aware of it themselves). That’s why it’s not very common to read an article about breast cancer awareness in a mainstream magazine (online or otherwise) and have it talk about how breastfeeding cuts the rate of breast cancer by whatever percentage… More than likely you’ll read about how to buy some useless pink object you’ll never need (which may even be bad for you) to promote yet another empty gesture.

I firmly believe that the breast cancer epidemic our society is witness to now is a direct result of, among other things, the medical establishment, starting circa the 1920’s, discouraging women from breastfeeding their babies (by encouraging artificial baby milk use and telling them their human milk was “no good.”) Of course, the medical establishment — doctors, nurses, hospitals — were encouraged by the dairy and burgeoning formula manufacturers to push artificial baby milk onto their patients, in exchange for money and/or free formula samples. They still are.

Would women still have breast cancer if they breastfed? Yes, most certainly, some of them would; the disease has always existed (my own great-grandmother had breast cancer and she breastfed six children — though the disease didn’t kill her). But there probably wouldn’t be nearly as many cases as we’re seeing now had every single woman breastfed.

Anyway, this is all a lead-in to say that in my International Breastfeeding Symbol Online Store (not the CafePress one — that one 100% of the profits I make will always be donated to the HMBANA Austin Milk Bank), 100% of the profits I make for the month of October will be given to breast cancer organizations hand-picked by me. So far I’m looking at The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute and Breast Cancer Action. I need to do more research on both before making a final decision, but even if I opt not to donate to either one of them, I will donate 100% of the profits to a breast cancer awareness/education/research organization that I’ve researched pretty thoroughly. With all the scams in the world, though, I need to be cautious, so I’ll have to, like I said, research some more. For the symbolic month of October, I can find no better cause to donate all my money to than true breast cancer awareness.

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Where is all this racial tension coming from? (Not about breastfeeding.)

October 1st, 2007 by MamaBear

A couple of stories in the news lately have me worried. First there’s the controversial Jena 6 case. I won’t go into the details of it. It’s way too controversial and media contaminated, and, at least for now, I’m not touching it with a ten-foot pole. I might as well write the word “abortion” instead of “Jena 6,” because both terms guarantee to piss off everybody, on both sides of the debate. Not worth it.

Rather than alienate my readers, I’ll instead draw your attention to the more recent case of a young girl in California who got her wrist broken by a guard at her school. According to the news reports, Pleajhia Mervin, a 16-year old high school student, dropped a birthday cake on the floor of the school cafeteria. She picked up the mess, but was then told by the security guard to pick up some crumbs she left behind. Mervin went back to pick up the crumbs, and when she was done, started walking to class. The security guard, not satisfied with the way Mervin had picked up the crumbs (WTF? Isn’t that what the janitorial staff at a school is for?) engaged in a verbal altercation with her which culminated in him slamming her against a steel grate and twisting her wrist until it broke. I cannot make this shit up, people! It was caught on a video cameraphone by an quick-on-his-feet fellow student. (Said student was also “taken down,” by the guards — WHY?? –, and his incident was also documented in a picture by yet another student, thank goodness.)

There is so much wrong with this, I don’t know where to begin: The flagrant abuse of power by the guard(s) in question; the subtle sexism (”How dare she not finish cleaning up every last crumb?” was the implication the guard’s actions carried, wordlessly); the subtle racist insult (so subtle Mervin’s mother had to explain it to her) by the guard who broke Mervin’s wrist: “nappy-head;” the fact that even daring to document the abuse of power was seen as so much of a threat by the guards that they chose to assault the rogue documentarian (who was himself another student) for NO legitimate reason… On and on and on…

Which brings me to my point, here: Where is all this racial tension coming from? Was it always there and I just didn’t notice? Is it like the sexism I didn’t notice (and I’m a woman), because it was so much of a part of life that I didn’t register the subtle jabs at women doled out by society, over and over again, those spoken and unspoken, unless and until they became as obvious as this news story? Is this a backlash of some sort? Or is it that I couldn’t put it all together before because never before was I mature enough to understand, and never before were the resources at my disposal (the internet) to help me connect all the dots? It could be all these things and more. Thank goodness for the internet; that’s all I have to say. Second only to the right to vote, it’s probably the thing that will make it possible for the ordinary person to finally have a voice.

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