Saturday, February 19, 2005

Feeding Human Rice to Babies

Last December Ventria Bioscience, a biopharmaceutical company based in Sacramento, Calif., submitted permit applications to the USDA to grow about 200 acres of rice “engineered with human genes” in Scott, Mississippi and Cape Girardeau counties this year.
Ventria's proteins have the potential to address health issues such as severe dehydrations due to diarrhea which kills approximately 1.3 million children under age 5 every year worldwide, Herbst said.

Good news right? Major corporations are struggling to be the first to bring us solutions that would help save 1.3 million children a year. The numbers are from UNICEF and they offer a free and better solution available now.

Here is where Ventria gets the 1.3 million number they are using in press releases.
UNICEF said that by expanding the number of women who exclusively breastfeed during their child’s first six months, at least 1.3 million infant lives could be saved this year.
“Simply put, if a child dies a preventable death it’s because mothers and infants are not getting the basic support they need,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.

Now - people who don't apologize while promoting breastfeeding and the cheapest and best known access to health benefits that can be applied now with proper support aren't always well recieved. Maybe the millions spent in marketing and influencing attitudes have swayed us over time. I don't have that kind of money.

The problem isn't that a company is doing something other than encouraging
breastfeeding, it's their target demographic. UNICEF recognizes this
demographic of endangered lives as people "who don't get basic
support." This company's solution, besides using genetically modified
product on infants, isn't support - but rather another option to undermine the
cheapest and best solution to the problem they claim to be addressing.

If they were targeting the much, much, much smaller demographic within their actual demographic of mostly
third world women who can't breastfeed for some reason, I would say God bless
'em. Bless those moments when it's actually used for that. If it ever is. (Does that count as my apology?)

But - imagine the dollar amount invested in their campaign, being moved from state to state since at least 1997 trying to find a place to finally farm their research. Nestle, who is in violation of WHO's international guidelines for formula marketing and openly flaunts them, is a ready distributor who is already doing their own research on the same protein.

With millions of dollars tied up in research over many years, and the target demographic of healthy women who can fix the problem now with proper support named - they will want a return. Healthy breastfeeding doesn't turn a profit to anyone but individuals, communities and states who pick up later health benefits and costs.

WHO and UNICEF promote standards based on knowledge of how easy it is for new mothers and infants to get discouraged with breastfeeding - due to emotional and physical challenges, due to surrounding support and due to culture.

This company is already preparing to launch against a healthy demographic who is simply lacking support. It is feeding on a weakness and hoping to profit from it. The marketing barrage will rely on the lack of support persisting for these 1.3 million children a year. That is the quality defining this demographic.

If these women get support - their market and stated need disappears. If they start the free option of breastfeeding and stop the death of 3,500 children a day - this market is closed to them.

Imagine if a fraction of this research money, future marketing and distribution costs aimed at healthy women who lack support was spent now on support. As WHO, UNICEF and even the Human Rice makers acknowledge - 3,500 babies a day would be saved.

Instead - when they hit the market and spend millions more specifically targeting women and children whose central problem is a lack of support - they are further undermining the support.

With a problem that can be resolved free right now - a problem involving 3,500 children’s lives a day - multimillion and some multibillion dollar companies are sitting back watching the deaths while doing research and shouting "a solution is coming" when the solution already exists, and it's not the price they will charge for a process, technology and protein variance they patent.

It will be a solution you have to pay them for.

The other solution is free - an important component for many populations. It's breastfeeding and can start saving lives now. If the problem isn't resolved by the time they have a complete product - the lack of support will grow as a direct result of them relying on and feeding on the existing lack of support. Fewer children might die (as they market what may be the second best solution to just one problem at a cost) for that specific cause, but the overall problem of not supporting those who would provide children with the food that happens to be the cheapest and best for them will grow. In the end, those lives may simply be moved over into another category.

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