For-profit corporation Medolac has announced the cessation of their plans to launch a Mothers Milk Co-op in Detroit, Michigan in response to breastfeeding activists’ demands for public accountability. As a Clinton Global Initiative to increase breastfeeding and economic empowerment in Detroit, Medolac announced its plans to establish a Mothers Milk Coop. Under its plan, the Co-op would pay mothers $1/ounce for their breastmilk, which would be sold to hospital NICUs for $7/ounce. Details of the proposed plan were made public in a New York Times Motherlode piece, which generated concern about the unintended consequences of their program and the socio-historical context of African-American women and breastfeeding.
Days after a group of activists released an Open Letter to Medolac sharing their concerns about the proposed program, it received over 600 signatures from individuals and groups alike. The letter, consisting mainly of questions about the ethical feasibility of the program, requested that Elena Medo, Medolac’s CEO, meet with entrenched breastfeeding advocates, activists and legislators. The questions raised shined a light on critical concerns for a program that purports to increase breastfeeding rates by facilitating the sale of said breastmilk:
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?
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?
Supporting organizations included Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, American Federation of Teachers, HealthConnect One and La Leche League among many others. The corporation’s initial response was to direct the activists to their FAQ page. In an open letter response, Medolac has announced that it will retire the program altogether, implying that it will not attempt the program in Detroit or in any other urban area.
The coalition behind the public accountability campaign, led by Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA), counts Medolac’s statement as a complicated victory. BMBFA works throughout the state of Michigan and nationally to increase awareness about the health and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, as well as provide peer support and cultural competency training for healthcare workers. Medolac’s letter stated that “this environment has become too toxic for public/private partnership and we see no viable pathway forward to advance this campaign, particularly given our desire for continued local partner participation,” though they have never attempted to meet with BMBFA or any other breastfeeding support organizations in Detroit.
One can only hope that this experience stands as testament to the necessity of community collaboration in the design, implementation and infrastructure for programs meant to be of public benefit. In the meanwhile, this controversy has exposed a weakness in the regulation of for-profit milk banks. Only four states have any laws regulating milk banks, and even those focus on milk screening for not-for-profit milk banks.