Oregon firm drops plan to buy Detroit breast milk

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

An Oregon-based company has backed away from a plan to purchase breast milk from Detroit mothers, saying Thursday that opposition from community groups made the environment here “toxic.”

Detroit organizations unleashed a firestorm of questions last week and argued the plan by Medolac Laboratories smacked of exploitation of the city’s impoverished mothers. Detroit has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, as well as the greatest percentage of children living in extreme poverty.

“There’s no activity targeting anyone of any race at all,” Adrianne Weir, daughter of Medolac President and CEO Elena Medo, told The Detroit News last week. “It’s been misconstrued in a huge way. We only have a couple of donors in Detroit; we have about 50 in Michigan.

Kiddada Green, executive director of the Black Mothers Breast Feeding Association, called the Lake Oswego company’s decision not to collect breast milk in Detroit a “victory to Detroit mothers.”

“In light of recent events ... 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,” Medo said in a letter Wednesday to Green.

The group also rescinded its status as part of a Clinton Global Initiative, which was attacked by political opponents of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton following media reports about the firestorm.

“(I)t is with regret that we have taken the unilateral decision to retire this CGI Commitment to Action so we can focus on our primary mission: working to end the shortage of donor milk that is negatively impacting premature and medically fragile infants,” Medo added in her letter to Green.

But Green said she was still disturbed by the way Medolac handled the issue.

“To date, Medolac has refused to meet with or talk to the community members,” Green said. “I believe that Medolac’s refusal to meet with us here in Detroit or answer any of our questions reflects what many might consider ill intent.”

The company last week denied it was trying to recruit Detroit women and said women got involved by word of mouth.

Medolac processes and markets milk collected from members of the Mother’s Milk Cooperative, who get paid a dollar per ounce with the potential to earn more if the cooperative turns a profit. The cooperative has 1,000 members in 47 states. Last year, members received an average of about $600 to $800 month.

According to Medolac, Andrea Short is among a small number of Michigan who have been selling their milk to the company. Medolac spokesman Doug Hawkins said she “joined on her own long before we even announced this campaign.”

In an email forwarded by Hawkins, Short said she has sold 5,453 ounces of breast milk to Medolac, and the money she received has helped her family make ends meet. She did not immediately return a call from The News Thursday.

“I am proud of myself for being able to donate so much! It’s good for my family financially,” said Short, who lives in Monroe County’s Berlin Township. “For some people $5K isn’t much, but to us it is a lot of money.

“This milk is also helping to give some tiny babies a great start to life! To address the mark up of their product, that’s how all businesses are run.”