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Tuesday, June 05, 2007So I've had a few days to mull things over since Jill shared the new agreement between the International Breast Milk Project and Prolacta. I've also had a chance to send a few emails back and forth with Jill to clarify some points and to answer a few questions that I still had. Now that I've had some time to digest things, I think I'm willing to lay out my current thoughts on the subject.
(No idea what I'm talking about? Check out my original post asking if the International Breast Milk Project is a scam?)
Where Things Stand Now
First, let me lay out the facts about the relationship between Prolacta and the International Breast Milk Project according to Jill.
1.) Jill is NOT employed, paid or in any way compensated by Prolacta for her work with the International Breast Milk Project. While she does devote herself to the project full time, she is a volunteer. She tells me that she has reimbursed herself "around $3000" in the last year to cover her own personal expenses. She says that there are no plans for her to earn an income from either the IBMP or Prolacta.
2.) Prolacta and the International Breast Milk Project had collected roughly 55,000 ounces of donated milk for Africa as of May 31st, 2007. Prolacta had shipped around 15,000 ounces to Africa. They have confirmed that they will ship 55,000 ounces to Africa. In other words, ALL of the milk collected prior to June 1st WILL be shipped to Africa.
3.) Beginning June 1st, Prolacta will ship 25% of the milk received via the International Breast Milk Project to Africa. The remaining 75% of collected milk will be "purchased" from the IBMP at a cost of $1 an ounce. These funds are to be sent directly to the centers in Africa that are using the milk for the purpose of setting up their own systems. Prolacta and the International Breast Milk Project estimate that this will amount to roughly $50,000 to $75,000 a year in funding.
4.) The International Breast Milk Project has had more than 800 applicants but has only processed and accepted 275 donors.
5.) While the shipping from the United States to Africa is donated by various shipping companies, Prolacta's "cost" for supporting the project includes blood testing, shipping from donor moms to Prolacta and the milk screening and processing.
6.) Prolacta has been in business since 1999 and has made less than $1 million in the last seven years.
7.) The International Breast Milk Project has committed to yearly reporting on the amount of donor milk collected, the amount sent to Africa and the amount of funds raised from Prolacta.
What This News Changes
The main thing that all of this changes is the idea of transparency.
You may recall that my primary motivator for my original post was the fact that moms were being drawn in to donate to a "tear-jerker" (but obviously wonderful) cause and that Prolacta might be profiting hugely from those mother's altruistic intentions.
If everything runs as Jill says it will, that risk is somewhat negated. Any mom that does even the smallest bit of reading on the IBMP site will know what percentage of their milk is going to end up in Africa.
Ultimately, that was the main goal of my post. To make sure that moms had the ability to make informed decisions. It appears that they will now be able to do so.
What This News Doesn't Change
So there's no denying that the IBMP and Prolacta stepped up to the plate when it came to transparency, but the reality is that this new information doesn't really do much to improve my opinion of the arrangement.
In fact, it pretty much confirms my own feelings that as a donor mom, I'd be sticking with HMBANA.
1.) While I understand that Prolacta spends a lot of money on screening, shipping and processing, there's a HUGE difference between recouping costs and making a profit. The system as it is set up now leaves them in a position with a strong potential for profit. The idea of a company profiting off of the donated milk of a mother seeking to help someone doesn't sit well with me.
The current agreement means that Prolacta will get about 75,000 ounces of breast milk a year in exchange for processing and giving away about 25,000 ounces of breast milk. For a company that has had a hard time gathering donors, this seems like a pretty fair trade. Sure, they're paying $1 an ounce for the 75K ounces, but they're also factoring in the cost of those other 25K ounces. Prolacta is not going to lose money on this deal, so you know that they know they can still come out ahead based on the 75K ounces.
2.) It's a bad business model. Sure there's money to be made...but as an entrepreneur I have to frown on any company that builds their business model off a process that requires someone else to provide your raw materials for free. Can you imagine Del Monte expecting farmers to ship their fruit and vegetable to them out of the goodness of their hearts? Why should breast milk be any different?
I'm a capitalist at heart. I believe in business and in charging what the market will bear. I don't believe that "essential" products should be given away for free. At the same time...I don't believe in profiting off of good will. In other words, if I found out that the Red Cross was selling 75% of my donated blood to a pharmaceutical company, I'd be equally upset.
3.) For every question answered, another one gets raised. For example, Prolacta has suddenly started promoting their "human milk based fortifier" and speaks of it repeatedly in the new FAQ section. Unfortunately, I cannot find any info on exactly what this is. I also can't find ANY confirmation that they have a true human milk fortifier other than what's on their web site. Considering the risks associated with milk fortifiers in micro-preemies (necrotizing entercolitis for one) and the fact that those risks would mostly vanish with the intro of a true human milk based fortifier, I'm honestly astounded that I can find no mention in the mainstream press, medical journals, IBCLC sites, Preemie sites, and so on.
In fact, I find it amazing that none of the the wildly intelligent women that I know who have had babies stay in NICUs within the last year have been able to find any information about a human based milk fortifier being available.
Thus, I'd love to hear more from Prolacta about exactly what it is that they have. Are they simply gathering the milk together and skimming off the top 10%...the way you'd take cream from cow's milk? That would create breast milk with incredibly high fat and calorie counts. It would also leave 90% of the milk to be used for pharmaceutical research.
Or, are they somehow creating an entirely need product that's formed from breast milk, but is a "new" product entirely? I'd just love to hear more about this and I cannot find any information at all apart from fuzzy marketing speak and press releases.
Where Does This Leave You?
Well, it depends on how you feel about all of the above. I can't (and won't) tell you what you should do. I can simply tell you to read the information, consider the situation and decide where you want to donate your milk.
If you aren't near a HMBANA bank and want to donate badly enough to be ok with just 25% going to Africa, then go for it. If you are near a HMBANA bank and still want to donate to Prolacta, then that's your choice too.
They've certainly given us answers... I just can't say that they've made me happy.
Labels: Milk Banking and Sharing