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Salon.com Covers the International Breast Milk Project Controversy

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Oh, what one little blog post can do...

Salon.com has picked up the story about Prolacta and the International Breast Milk Project and asks a few questions of their own about how everything is working.

Earlier this week, Prolacta and Youse attempted to clear the milky waters. According to Elster, all milk received from the inception of the IBMP project to May 31 of this year will go to Africa. After May 31, however, IBMP will send 25 percent of all donations received to Africa, and 75 percent will be sold to Prolacta for $1 an ounce. What kind of profit margin does this mean for Prolacta? Potentially a motherlode. If, as Elster told me, the average donation runs around 180 ounces, then that would mean that 135 ounces (75 percent) "sold" to Prolacta would generate around $4,725 (at $35 an ounce) for the company, or about $3,890 after subtracting the expense of donor processing (about $700 per donor) and the cash payment to IBMP.

Quite honestly, those numbers don't look much better than the ones I originally posted.

Basically, for every donor the International Breast Milk Project recruits, the IBMP will get 45 ounces of breast milk and $135. Prolacta, on the other hand would get 135 ounces of breast milk and up to $3,890 in sales.

Umm...that just doesn't seem right.

The article also touches on my question about the financial issues of shipping all that milk and includes a response from Jill.

Prolacta's profits aside, a question remains: Should we really be sending frozen breast milk to Africa? Given the shipping, the refrigeration, the sheer expense of transporting precious little of the precious liquid around the globe, is it more important as a symbol than as an effective solution? As Laycock observes: "Fifteen thousand ounces will feed three babies for six months. If those dollars spent processing and transporting milk could be spent setting up milk banking in a country, one can only imagine how much more they could accomplish."

In part, Youse agrees with this sentiment, though she adds that not all communities in Africa are good candidates for setting up local breast milk banks. In addition to widespread HIV infection among potential donors, there are cultural and practical obstacles. "In some places, it can work, in others it's never going to happen," says Youse. But in general she acknowledges that transporting milk safely to Africa is extremely expensive and not terribly efficient.

I wonder if Oprah will read that article in Salon...

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  1. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:06 AM |  

    I have been enjoying reading about milk donation. I am giving birth in two days or less. All throughout my pregnancy, I had been hoping to have so much milk, that I would be able to feed my daughter and donate the rest. If it happens, I will be happy.
    Thanks for the info.

  2. Blogger Amy | 9:20 AM |  

    The letters to the editor are classic. Too bad they got your name wrong!

    Thanks for continuing to follow this story. It's gotten very interesting.

  3. Blogger tiny-dog | 9:41 AM |  

    I actually ran across that article yesterday because I read salon on a regular basis. I kind of wondered about the overall fact checking since they didn't even get your name right!

  4. Blogger Sarahbear | 2:38 PM |  

    Aren't there plenty of sick babies here in the U.S. that could use the donated milk? Perhaps WIC could take out a contract with them or something?

    And rather than shipping the donated milk to Africa, perhaps they can instead take that percentage of their profits and send it to Africa to set up these milk banks and clinics there?

    Heck, that kind of money could get clean water to some of the communities over there too.

    I saw something on the news about FEMA building these machines that take air and turn it into clean drinking water. They are like half a million dollars a piece. Maybe they could think about putting some of those in Africa too.

  5. Blogger Naki | 2:56 PM |  

    I see this getting much bigger soon. It would be awesome seeing this on Oprah- especially since she has such a big influence. Thank you for the update on this topic! Can't wait to see where this goes..

  6. Anonymous elle | 4:08 PM |  

    Hi I am new to this, but thought I would see if you knew answers to any of my questions. Am glad you brought this story up but am just not sure what the big problem is.

    What is the problem?

    As far as profits, lets look a little closer. With the Africa project, it appears that IBMP's $1 profit is going to Africa. Prolacta's profit is going to make a human milk fortifier. The other HMBANA milk bank profits are going to support their milk banks. Why is any of this wrong? I think each organization has a different mission and they are implementing an appropriate business model to support it.

    The HMBANA banks sell milk at $3/ounce. Just because an organization is a non-profit, doesn't mean they don't bring in a lot of money. Does anyone know if they have executives with salaries? Or has anyone researched to see if they are in fact bringing in more money than Prolacta? With Prolacta only making less than $1 million over 7 years, my bet is HMBANA is making a lot more money of moms' milk. Plus, if I read correctly, Prolacta is selling a product that is ten times the concentration of the other milk - at what 10 times the cost? Seems to make sense to me. Hmmm, again, what is the big deal?

    I just don't see where there is a controversy. Why is it such a problem that a for-profit company is trying to make a profit? Would we all be up in arms if we found out that any other pharma company was trying to make a profit?

    A final question is - if in fact the non-profit banks bring in more money than the for-profit banks, then why could they not help out? And if they are bringing in more than 1 million over 7 years, why do we not question where their money goes? Surely it goes back into their program - the same way Prolacta's profit would go back into their program - into paying for marketing, salaries, etc. No problems with where or how either organization spends their money...What is really the difference between a non-profit set up and a for-profit set up? I am really not sure?

  7. Anonymous AZ | 8:30 PM |  

    Do What is Best for Babies Not Wallflowers

    if hungry babies whose moms have died of HIV could vote....

    on whether they could have immediate access to donor milk that would benefit them for the rest of their lives, or....

    have money to develop a local milk banking system that will take several years to make happen or.....

    have both

    what would do you think they would say? right now they will be getting both. the other thing is that there is not a system in Africa for donor milk for several reasons. 1) 40% of moms are HIV positive 2) in some countries, religious practices would not support donating breast milk to name a few. Also, this is just getting started so it sounds and perhaps there will be milk banks in Africa down the road, but until then, why do you have such a problem with milk going to these babies? sure in theory there are better ways to do it - and maybe those theories can become a reality but in the meantime why deprive these babies if there are moms in the US who want to make a difference immediately instead of spending all of their time debating on the best way to do something.

    the people who criticize this are the same ones who criticize Oprah for opening a school, Madonna for adopting a baby, and Angelina for adopting another baby. they are the same people who will always find something wrong with everything. they are the wallflowers who have a lot to say but not a lot to do.

  8. Blogger The Lactivist | 8:51 PM |  

    Umm, I haven't seen anyone that's opposed to giving milk to babies in Africa.

    In fact, I think you'll find that the primary complaint is that only 25% of the milk that is being donated to those babies will actually reach them.

    You might want to reread the post as you seem to have missed the points of contention.

  9. Anonymous az | 8:16 AM |  

    Send milk - wallflowers cry: "Too expensive to ship, you need send money!"

    If they send money, wallflowers cry: "No, you are not sending enough milk! 25% is not enough! We need more milk."

  10. Blogger The Lactivist | 3:11 PM |  


    You're right, wallflowers are probably going to find fault with anything.

    The strange thing about your post, is that you likely won't find any wallflowers here...

    So I'm not sure I understand your point?

  11. Anonymous az | 8:12 PM |  

    Prolacta's profits aside, a question remains: Should we really be sending frozen breast milk to Africa? Given the shipping, the refrigeration, the sheer expense of transporting precious little of the precious liquid around the globe, is it more important as a symbol than as an effective solution? As Laycock observes: "Fifteen thousand ounces will feed three babies for six months. If those dollars spent processing and transporting milk could be spent setting up milk banking in a country, one can only imagine how much more they could accomplish."

    I was responding to your statement "Umm, I haven't seen anyone that's opposed to giving milk to babies in Africa."

    In the salon article, it seems that you are criticizing both ways, with out offering a better solution of your own.

  12. Blogger The Lactivist | 9:41 AM |  

    Articles pull the quotes that they find most interesting.

    I'd invite you to spend some time browsing this site and reading more about my stance on these types of issues.

    If you don't want to, then here's a quick summary of where I stand.

    1.) If Prolacta was shipping 100% of the milk, I would have far less issues with this. My main issue is the amount they are keeping. Look at my numbers on what Prolacta gets verses what the IBMP gets.

    2.) Let's keep that donated milk here in the U.S. and send the dollars instead so that they can develop their own milk banks. (Or, to work on better ways to have clean water supplies so that formula carries less danger).)

    3.) I support donations to the HMBANA milk banks. The HMBANA milk banks are all registered non-profits. They charge only enough to cover their operations costs and believe me, their employees are NOT well paid. In fact, much of the work is done by volunteers. The price charged by banks varies depending on how long they have been around (longer they've been around, lower the operating cost.) Milk from these banks tends to run between $3 and $4 an ounce. Additionally, the HMBANA banks prioritize who gets milk by need, not ability to pay and send an average of 20% of their milk without being paid for it.

    4.) As for not doing anything? I've spent the last two years of my life working to promote milk banking. I've done interviews with more than a dozen national media publications, I've done half a dozen radio shows, I've spoken to rooms of more than 1000 people, I've personally donated 27 gallons of my milk and I've used this site to raise $3000 for the milk bank here in my home state. I'd like to think that means I'm not a wallflower.

    So, to sum up. I'm not at all opposed to sending milk to babies in Africa. I just think that

    a.) This set-up sucks
    b.) Helping them establish their own milk banking system will have better results

  13. Blogger Elena | 7:21 PM |  

    I'm actually quite excited about that 75% that Prolacta buys. Human milk fortifier made from actual human milk is a big deal... I wish it had been available when my twins were in the NICU.

    But all apart from that, $1/oz. is actually quite a fair market price for the raw product, when they're paying for all the equipment and shipping costs.

    And the fact is, much as I would love to send a check to establish milk banks in Africa... I just don't have a lot of money.

    I do have a lot of milk, though. And I'm thrilled at the opportunity to use it to financially support African milk banks.

  14. Blogger The Lactivist | 5:36 AM |  

    As I said, as long as they are being 100% upfront and honest with folks about what they are doing with the milk, then it's up to each mom to decide for herself is it's a worthwhile use of her milk.

    If you feel it is, then more power to you. :)

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:32 AM |  

    NPR is covering this story right now, thought you'd want to know

  16. Blogger The Lactivist | 10:47 AM |  

    Excellent! Any input on what show or channel it was on?

  17. Anonymous angel | 12:47 PM |  

    I am so happy to see people supporting IBMP. I think that it is very important that people keep the base line in mind!!! We are helping babies in Africa and in the USA. The babies are what is important not who is making a profit or not making a profit!!!
    Prolacta did a wonderful thing by stepping up and helping IBMP.
    If anyone has any questions they should go to IBMP Q&A page located on the IBMP website.
    This is an amazing project!!!

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