Dr. Wendy Walsh: The recent recall of millions of bottles and cans of Similac infant formula has sparked a Senate inquiry. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued a letter to Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Similac, asking why the company waited so long to issue a recall after discovering that their product was contaminated with beetle parts. Concerned parents had been making complaints to the FDA for weeks before Abbott did anything. Urgh!
I hate infant formula companies. I should also tell you that I rarely use the word "hate". It's a word with no open door. "Hate" shuts down any chances for revision and interpretation that the phrase "don't like" hints at. But I also hate dead babies.
Here's the deal: Corporations who make artificial infant food are never going away. Formula is vital to nursing mothers who are forced to work long hours and need to supplement their breast milk. It's a godsend for women who may have suffered sexual abuse and who have PTSD-like panic attacks when their breasts are touched. And it's vital for foster and adoptive parents. (Although I'm sure that if I ever adopted, I would take the money normally spent on formula and impractical frilly baby dresses and put some nursing mother in business
as my own private dairy. But that's me.)
Shouldn't those populations of mothers be enough for formula companies? How greedy must they be?
What I hate about corporations that manufacture formula is how they tell lies and create markets for themselves, while putting infant lives at risk. The World Health Organization
issued an international breastfeeding code
that calls for, among other things, enforcement of honest advertising and product claims. It breaks my heart when a product so inferior to human breast milk is compared to it in any way.
Formula is mostly protein, fat and water. Breast milk contains hundreds of nutrients designed by nature to fuel a growing body and brain. It cannot be replicated. But you wouldn't believe that if you read the label of most any formula bottle or can.
That's only one small reason why I hate formula companies, though. I mostly hate them because of the "free" samples they give in hospitals. It's usually a two-week supply -- just enough time to dry up a mother's own milk and interrupt nature's most sophisticated system for infant survival.
And as if that weren't enough, they do it in poor countries where mothers have little money to purchase the product themselves. So mothers water it down in an attempt to stretch out their free sample, or they mix the powder with contaminated water. Babies slowly starve or get terrible infections that kill them. And you know the most heinous thing about this inhumane capitalistic marketing strategy? In some of those countries, breastfeeding is the only form of birth control
available to women. So formula companies contribute to the infant birth rate and
the infant death rate.
In their book "Milk, Money and Madness," Naomi Baumslag
and Dia L. Michels give hard evidence. "This widespread use of formula means that worldwide, 1.5 million babies die every year because they were not breastfed," it says on page 93. "And this does not only happen in developing countries. One study estimates that four out of every 100 babies born in the U.S. each year die because they are not breastfed. That adds up to thousands of infant deaths a year that could have been prevented by breastfeeding
." Naomi Baumslag
is a clinical professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical School
, as well as the president of the Women's International Public Health Network. She knows what she's talking about!
Here's my advice for profit-hungry formula companies: If you must make money off mothers, manufacture breast pumps and accessories. Give those women in poor countries jobs sewing totally cute breastfeeding
clothes and nursing bras. Manufacture nipple guards and breastfeeding
pillows. Since you're a drug company, put money into research for drugs that might help a mother increase her milk supply or fight postpartum depression. Support nature. Don't interfere with it. Please. Babies' lives are at stake!