Gina Rinehart's dairy investment contrasts with undervalued breast milk

Gina Rinehart is on to something. The woman who picked the mining boom by betting on iron ore at a time when few realised what was about to happen in China, she is now betting on powdered milk.

So fast is China's market for infant formula growing that it doubled in five years and is expected to double again in three years. It's why foreign companies are falling over themselves to take over Australian milk producers.

And it's why the richest Australian is spending half a billion to build Hope Dairies from scratch. Bloomberg reports it'll take up 5000 hectares of Queensland farmland pumping out an extraordinary 30,000 tonnes of infant formula per year, all of it bound for China, gazumping Australia's present milk powder exports to China of 18,000 tonnes per year.

It would be great if it actually helped Chinese infants. But it won't. Infant formula is one of those rare products the use of which usually hurts rather than helps the user. And unlike others such as alcohol and unhealthy foods the user has no choice but to use it.

Formula milk displaces breast milk, a wonder-food specifically designed for emerging human beings. Formula-fed babies are less resistant to infection, more likely to suffer from diarrhoea and pneumonia and more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome. Later in life they are more likely to contract diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer. And they are likely to have lower IQs.

And that's where formula milk is prepared properly. Where it isn't – where water is tainted or where hygiene is bad – the results can be lethal. In 2008 around 54,000 Chinese babies were hospitalised after ingesting a chemical added to formula to give it a higher apparent protein content.

Yet the way we treat formula milk and breast milk in our national accounts is bizarre.

When more formula milk is produced or consumed we say that Australia's (or China's) gross domestic product has gone up. GDP is regarded as a measure of standard of living.

But our standard of living will have got worse. Breast milk is an incomparably superior product that formula necessarily displaces, and it isn't counted in GDP.

But it should be. Breast milk can be stored, exchanged and traded, like other foods. In Norway hospitals sell it for around US$100 per litre. 

An Australian study back in 1992 put the value of breast milk at $67 per litre. (By way of comparison wine often costs $20 per litre, petrol costs $1.60.) Multiplied by the number of litres produced it implied that more than $2 billion was missing from Australia's national accounts, around 0.5 per cent of GDP. At the time the sales of formula were worth $135 million.

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Can the simple innovation of paying moms for milk save newborns?

MMC pays nursing mothers $1 an once for their oversupply — milk that they produce in addition to what their babies can eat — which nursing women typically pump and freeze.

The average contributor to MMC makes about $800 a month, according to Medo. In the last year, it has paid out over $1 million to donor moms.

It's a simple supply-and-demand equation that, proponents say, provides life-saving milk to babies, and pays women for a rare commodity while providing extra money to their families. Milk-for-sale, however, goes against a tradition of altruistic donor moms who, for decades, have given their excess milk for free to hundreds of milk banks across the country, providing over 3 million ounces to hospitals a year.

“It’s a nice altruistic thought that mothers are just expected to give it, but there has been a severe shortage in hospitals for years,” said Medo.

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Co-op Provides Help for Premature Babies, Generates Income for Moms

Mothers Milk Cooperative (MMC) is believed to be the first cooperative in the country that aggregates and markets human milk. The cooperative was incorporated in 2012 to achieve two major objectives:

  • Provide a safe, shelf-stable human milk product to Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) in hospitals, aiding in the survival of the 300,000 premature babies born each year, and
  • Provide income to women with babies, allowing them to remain at home with their babies for a longer period.

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The Cost of Things: One Year of Breastfeeding

Ever since I read Meaghan’s comment, “I will say that part of me is convinced that there can be no feminism with breastfeeding,” I have been discussing it with everyone from my mom friends to my dental hygienist. I feel the truth of this statement everyday when I think of the work events I can’t attend, the trips I cannot take, and the sleep I am not getting. I know it is a choice, but I don’t think anyone understands what that choice really entails until, as Meaghan said, we are too “in it.” Breastfeeding is not free. It takes its toll on your marriage, your job, your other children (if you have them), and sometimes your sanity.

Below is a breakdown of the actual monetary cost of one year of breastfeeding. I can’t put a price on my sanity, but I can tell you that my son and I cheerfully weaned each other days before his first birthday and never looked back.

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Announcing the "Best of the Breast"!

2014 "Best of the Breast" Awards presented by Mother's Milk Cooperative!

At Mother's Milk Cooperative, we support breastfeeding and pumping moms and would like to recognize those who have helped make breastfeeding a success for our members! We are excited to announce our First Annual MMC “Best of the Breast” Breastfeeding Support Award Winners, chosen by our Mother's Milk Cooperative breast milk donors. We'd like to celebrate the organizations, individuals, and products which have helped women achieve their breastfeeding and pumping goals!


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Breast Milk is Bringing in Bank for Some Women

Some women are now earning more than $1,000 a month by selling their breast milk. Click on the link below to watch our report.

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MEMBER NEWS: CO-OP REDEFINES MILK BANKING, FIRST TO OFFER DONOR PAYMENT AND COMMERCIALLY STERILE MILK

NCBA CLUSA member Mother's Milk Cooperative (MMC) is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving access to donor milk and resolving the critical shortage of donor milk that is impacting the lives of premature and sick infants globally. It is currently the first and only milk bank in the United States to offer payment for donated milk.

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WARNING TO MOTHERS: BUYING BREAST MILK ONLINE CAN BE DANGEROUS

We have a warning tonight for new moms, and mothers to be. Doctors say you should be very careful, about buying breast milk from other women. This morning the Today Show called it a growing trend, women who can't produce their own milk, buying breast milk for their babies online. But a new study shows it can be very dangerous to do.

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