Open Letter to Medolac Laboratories from Detroit Mothers

Elena Medo

Medolac Laboratories

305 SW Roserood Street, Suite B

Lake Oswego, OR 97035

RE: An Open Letter to Medolac Laboratories from Detroit Mothers

Dear Ms. Medo,

As a group of mothers, community activists, and lawmakers in the greater Detroit area, we are writing to you in the spirit of open dialogue about your company’s recent attempts to recruit African-American and low-income women in Detroit to sell their breast milk to your company, Medolac Laboratories.

We are troubled by your targeting of African-American mothers, and your focus on Detroit in particular. We are concerned that this initiative has neither thoroughly factored in the historical context of milk sharing nor the complex social and economic challenges facing Detroit families. It is also troubling that no community organizations serving or advocating for African-American breastfeeding families in Detroit have been consulted in the development of such a program that is meant to benefit those families.

Detroit’s struggles, and those of its citizens, are well known at this point. Around the country, African-American women face unique economic hardships, and this is no less true in our city.[1] In addition, African American women have been impacted traumatically by historical commodification of our bodies. Given the economic incentives, we are deeply concerned that women will be coerced into diverting milk that they would otherwise feed their own babies. Research shows that exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months leads to significant health benefits for infants, fewer respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal diseases and ear infections. The benefits for breastfeeding mothers include decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.[2] With Detroit’s infant mortality rates currently double that of the rest of the state,[3] and rivaling that of some developing countries, our city’s babies need mother’s milk.
We are writing to you publicly today in order to ask you to respond to our questions, and to engage with us in a discussion of your company’s aims and objectives in recruiting African- American mothers in our city to participate in your for-profit milk-selling venture.

Our questions are as follows:

  1. Why did your company decide to target Detroit, and specifically low-income African-American women within our city? Given the long history in our country of profiting off Black women’s bodies, what steps are you taking to ensure that this process is not exploitative?
  2. What representation from Detroit’s African-American communities are part of this program’s ongoing stewardship or organizational structure?
  3. In your literature, you claim that for-profit milk collection will encourage women to breastfeed for longer. What credible data or research do you have to support that assertion?
  4. What are your plans for the milk you collect through this endeavor? According to online sources, your company may have a stockpile of up to 1 million ounces of breast milk that has neither been shared nor sold. What is Medolac doing with the stockpiled human milk?
  5. How does Medolac plan to ensure that collected milk benefits the 18% of infants born prematurely in our city?
  6. What do you plan to charge hospitals for access to your product? How will you ensure that Detroit hospitals are able to access your product?
  7. Do mothers pay income tax on the money you pay for their breast milk? How does this affect their take-home income?

We are eager for all mothers to breastfeed their children for as long as works for their families, but we are deeply concerned that targeting women within one of America’s hardest hit urban centers is motivated by profit rather than concern about encouraging breastfeeding in our community.

We look forward to engaging in constructive and meaningful dialogue with you about the questions above. We stand ready to meet with you here in Detroit.

CALLING ALL ADVOCATES.  ARE YOU A COMMUNITY MEMBER OR ORGANIZATION THAT WANTS TO HOLD MEDOLAC ACCOUNTABLE? SHOW YOUR SUPPORT BY SIGNING ON TO THIS OPEN LETTER. The letter is now closed because Medolac retired their initiative.  Read more.

SIGNED:

Kiddada Green, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association
Danielle Atkinson, Mothering Justice
Erika Geiss, State Representative (MI HD12)
Afrykayn Moon, President-Breastfeeding Mothers Unite
Acquanda Y. Stanford, University of Washington
Victoria Gensheimer Doula, Occupy Breastfeeding
Lavender Spirit, Birthing Blessings
Alia Harvey-Quinn, Community Educator and Organizer
Wilbert Small-Ausetcentet
Mark Dilley, AFT Michigan
Bianca Suarez, Graduate Student, University of California Berkeley
Michelle Martinez, SW Detroit
Gloria Rivera, IHM
Jarret Schlaff, New Work Field Street Collective
Marcia Lee, Detroit Area Restorative Justice Center
Anjanette Davenport Hatter, Harambee Care MIHP
Malik Yakini, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka, MomsRising
Marion Rice, Oregon Breastfeeding Coalition
Rachelle Leshteshen – Breastfeeding USA
Julie Hamilton – Health Children’s Center for Breastfeeding
Katrina Pavlik – Breastfeed Chicago
Makeda Kamara – Imani Family Life Center
Sejal Fichadia – Nursing Women’s Counsel
Mona Liza Hamlin – Breast for Baby Solutions
Felisha Floyd – Blactavist
The National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color
Susan Johnson – Motherfed
Norma Ritter – Breastfeeding Matters
Danyelle Claxton – Community Doula
Edward Ramey, Brothers on the Porch
Naim Edwards – Voices for Earth Justice

 

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[1] The poverty rate for African American women in more than 28 percent, compared to 10.8 percent for their non-hispanic, white, counterparts. African American women earn substantially less on the dollar than white women or African American men, and have an unemployment rate almost double that of their white peers. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2013/11/07/79165/fact-sheet-the-state-of-african-american-women-in-the-united-states/

[2] Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, American Academy of Pediatrics, https://www2.aap.org/breastfeeding/files/pdf/Breastfeeding2012ExecSum.pdf

[3] Infant mortality in Michigan is 6.3 per 1000 live births. The rate for African American women is 12.1 per 1000 live births and the rate for Detroit is 13.5 per 1000 live births. Live Births, Infant Deaths and Infant Mortality Rates by Race, Michigan Residents 2000-2012, Preliminary 2013 and 12 Months Ending in March 2014, Michigan Residents (http://www.mdch.state.mi.us/pha/osr/Provisional/InvantDeaths2013.asp)

 

15 comments on “Open Letter to Medolac Laboratories from Detroit Mothers

  • Thank you for asking these questions. I would also like Medolac to make public the names of the hospitals that are buying or using their human milk products, and the research studies that show that they are safe for fragile, premature babies in NICUs – in particular, in for babies born addicted to illegal or prescription drugs. Why aren’t these babies ALREADY receiving donor human milk? Why are we experimenting on these babies? (Clinical Trial report of research planned by University of Louisvillem in partnership with Medolac.) https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02182973 “This study is designed to develop pilot data on the acceptability and benefit of donor human milk for infants undergoing pharmacologic treatment for NAS. Specifically, gastrointestinal (GI) sub-scores, as well as total scores, will be compared between infants historically fed formula and those enrolled in a 2-week donor human milk study period.”)

  • George Kent says:

    Dear BMBFA –

    The “Open Letter to Medolac Laboratories from Detroit Mothers” is right on target. Thank you for articulating the major concerns.

    Calling Medolac to account is a very useful thing to do. Another good way to respond would be to show how the type of thing Medolac tried to do actually could be done well.

    Before I explain that, permit me to introduce myself. My name is George Kent. I was a professor of political science at the University of Hawai’i until my retirement in in 2010. I continue to teach on-line for the University of Sydney in Australia and Saybrook University in Oakland, California. In recent decades my work has centered on children, food, and human rights, in various combinations. I now focus particularly on the feeding of infants and young children, from a policy and human rights point of view.

    Recently I have been working on a paper on “Ethical Issues in Paying for Breastmilk”, a draft of which is available at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kent/EthicalIssuesinPayingforBreastmilk.docx It was prompted by the recent New York Times piece on Medolac, and the way in which Medolac has been giving the idea of paying for breastmilk a bad name. I would welcome comments on this draft.

    As indicated above, I think it would be useful to get beyond abstract discussion of the issues and instead actually show how paying women who share their breastmilk with others has good potential. The benefits to both women and children could be substantial.

    I understand that some people find the idea of paying for breastmilk inherently distasteful. I have no interest in persuading anyone to do anything they would not want to do. But maybe some of you in BMBFA would be interested in exploring the idea.

    Here is my perspective on this, as conveyed recently to a friend who is a leading breastfeeding advocate:

    /quote/
    The work of NGOs to test the idea of paying women to share their breastmilk could follow the thinking of Muhammad Yunus about social business, as described in his book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. Yunus’s idea is that people who want to do some sort of social good can do that in a business-like manner. Applying this to the discussion here, a group of creative breastfeeding advocates could start a business of buying and selling breastmilk with the primary purpose of improving the health of infants and young children. However, they would recognize that some money would have to be earned to cover the expenses of the operation. That would include paying the women who provide the breastmilk and also paying all the workers who operate the organization.

    Of course there would be a variety of problems to overcome, as in any business startup. But if the managers of the project were mainly interested in the “bottom line” of improving children’s health rather than the bottom line of taking home a lot of money, it could work well. It is worth trying.
    /unquote/

    Please let me know if you would like to discuss this.

    Aloha, George Kent
    kent@hawaii.edu

  • Darlene Henderson says:

    I am a Canadian of Ukrainian not African decent — I have worked in NICU and used donor breaast milk for premature and ill babies. I have donated to our milk bank; for N0 money incentive. Mothers in Canada are NOT paid for their milk!! It leads to many extranious problems!! Mothers pumping just for profit to the health detriment of their own children.

    This open letter to Medolac is “right on target”. As a Lactation Consultant I have assisted many new Canadians to our country — adjusting to a new culture is difficult and traumatic!! As a Woman, Mother, NICU nurse, Lactation consultant I am very aware of the horrific history of the African American Mother. During slavery their infants were sold or murdered so they would wet nurse “white” babies of their masters. I have read the stories in the museums on James Island in the Gambia — the squalid prison were west African capives were held before “shipment” to England and America.

    This whole operation of Medolac smells of “exploitation” — and rubbing salt into old wounds. Makes my stomach turn and my chest ache. I am enraged that Medolac is “retending” to be supporting and pomoting breastfeeding among women who historically choose not to breastfeed because of prior use and abuse of them as human beings!! Why are the not “freely” distribuing donor milk to Detroit hospitals and Mothers to encourage and supplement their efforts to breastfeed – it is time to “pay” for past exploitation, not exacerbate it!! Make breastfeeding normal and non-threatening for African American Mothers — help them heal, empower them, give them back to themselves AND their babies.

    God bless;
    Darlene

  • Darlene Henderson says:

    I apologize for my typos. My brain works much faster than my hands. I hope my message comes across as totally supportive of this open letter to Medolac.
    Blessings;
    D

  • Darlene Henderson says:

    Medolac is a trademark of NEOLAC – a cow’s milk based formula manufacteurer!!?? Therefore, by association Medolac is violating the W.H.O. Code??

  • Dear Mothers of Detroit,
    Message from Pakistan. Please be assured your breast milk is priceless. I am so happy to read your open letter to Medolac. Your breast milk will reach the shelves whether you want to believe it or not. I understand the hardships of your community and i’m certain that’s the reason they have targeted you in particular. Your questions will be answered i’m sure, in a very diplomatic way expressing their concerns to give all newborns a good start at life. However, would it not have made more sense for this company to initiate door to door awareness encouraging expecting mothers to exclusively breastfeed their newborns for the first 6 months, complementary feed after the first 6 months, yet continue to feed their babies for up to 2 years? Do you know it has been proven breast fed babies IQ level is higher than babies fed on synthetic milks, it is ready available at the right temperature for baby, it includes sufficient water baby requires, its an antibiotic, it doesn’t cost a cent and money used to buy synthetic milks can then be used for fruit, or other nutritious foods for the family. It has numerous health benefits for mother as well and helps you get back into shape. Bonding well, one can never say enough regarding the bond. The benefits of breast milk within the first hour of delivery is the richest form of milk (cream) and gives baby the best chance at life. Every mother can produce sufficient milk to feed their newborns, very few mothers are unable to. This is what you all need to understand. If the reasons this company is giving are sincere, i would ask why you don’t start a community group for mothers who are unable to feed and initiate a milk mother group instead? Only you can put an end to this exploitation and violation of your rights. As i said your milk in one form or another is going to be sold for hundreds more then you are paid. I wish you all the best.

  • Dear Mothers of Detroit,

    What your body produces and provides to your newborn is nothing short of a miracle, the health benefits for both mother and baby are nothing short of a miracle. When every women’s body is blessed with this natural, priceless gift, why would you allow yourselves to be exploited and paid when at the end of the day, the only beneficiary is Medolac? Start your own movement for mothers having difficulties with feeding eg milk mothers or hospitals may do the same by keeping a data base of mothers able to support new mothers unable to breastfeed for any reason and believe me the reasons are few.
    Talk about the value of your breast milk, its not worth ending up on the shelves. I’m shocked at the stock they have already managed to accumulate. Best wishes

  • Please encourage the petition be signed from outside US as well. We would all like to see Medolac accountable for their actions. “Milk for Profit” is unacceptable.

    Best wishes.

  • Darlene Henderson says:

    Over the last few years I have been to Western Africa 5 times. The pictures most vivid in my mind is babies who never loose touch with their Mothers bodies except to be bathed and diapered. Breastfeeding anytime, anywhere, any age is just so normal and commonplace it is not even a matter of discussion — just done!! Mothers there share their milk to family, friends and ill babies of strangers (in hospitals) they take into their fold.
    As a Mother, NICU nurse, Registered Lactation Consultant, Milk Donor, LLLC Leader I am in my glory — everything is right with the world. When I come home I cry with frustration at how “BACKWARDS” North America is!! How we believe in formula manufacturers more than our own bodies!
    African-American Mamas, take back your heritage, be strong and fight the ghosts of the past — SHOW NORTH AMERICA HOW TO BE THE BEST STRONG, PROUD, CONFIDENT, SUPPORTING, LOVING (BREASTFEEDING) MOTHERS <3
    God bless;
    D

  • Darlene Henderson says:

    AMEN Mahira Ali!! You are SOO right!! Stop the exploitation and support EACH OTHER in protecting yourselves and your babies from the illness and death caused by formula companies — which Medolac is; being part of Neolac. Who knows what they do to Mother’s milk to make it “fetch top dollar” for them – while paying nothing for something as priceless as human beastmilk!!
    Thank you for your words of wisdom!
    Blessings
    D

  • zella schott says:

    my colleague needed to fill out NCFMEC-02A a few days ago and was told about an excellent service with a searchable forms database . If others need to fill out NCFMEC-02A as well , here’s a https://goo.gl/Nu1yyi

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