Sponsored by Oregon Business

The Perfect Food

| Print |  Email
Articles - July/August 2014
Friday, July 11, 2014


Lake Oswego entrepreneur Elena Medo is yanking an age-old practice — wet-nursing — into the 21st century. 

The founder and CEO of Medolac Laboratories, Medo this past year opened a 5,000-square-foot headquarters and processing facility, where her 18 employees convert “raw” breast milk into a shelf stable product that can be sold to hospitals and humanitarian aid organizations. Medolac sources the milk from the Mother’s Milk Cooperative, a first-of-its-kind organization Medo established on Mother’s Day 2013 that pays mothers for their milk.  

It’s a decidedly postmodern endeavor: applying industrial-scale food-processing technology and social venture/sharing economy principles to enable mass production of human breast milk.

“It’s the producer-processor model,” explains Medo, who is at once pragmatic and passionate about the Medolac setup and its benefits. “Think tomatoes, think dairy,” she explains. “The producers are the people who provide the raw material — in this case, moms. The processor is Medolac. Medolac processes it, but the milk belongs to the co-op.”  

In 2014 everyone knows breast milk is best. Getting new moms to switch from infant formula to nursing ranks as one of the public health movement’s big success stories. Over 70% of American women now breast-feed their infants for some amount of time; 44% nurse for six months.  

Medolac is entering the scene as a new phase of the breast-feeding campaign unfolds. More and more hospitals are adopting breast milk as a standard of care in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). For premature babies, human milk provides a protein necessary for healthy development; it can also prevent necrotizing enterocolitis, an intestinal illness that is a leading killer of premature infants. If the mother of a preemie is unable to produce milk, many hospitals now use donor milk when available. 

A network of nonprofit milk banks with volunteer donors serves that market. But those milk banks supply less than 5% of very low-birthweight babies’ requirements, asserts Medo, whose credentials include an M.B.A. with a health focus. Paying moms will help scale production to meet demand, she says. Plus, unlike nonprofit donor milk, which must be kept frozen, Medolac’s product can be stored at room temperature — for up to three years. It’s a model Medo says will dramatically increase access to breast milk in the U.S. and around the world.

“We anticipate serving the entire domestic market and extending into the global market in five years,” she says. “There is no acceptable reason for babies to die for lack of donor milk. But that’s what’s happening.”

Medo, 60, has been in the for-profit breast-milk game since 1999, when she started Prolacta Bioscience, a San Diego company that developed a human milk fortifier for use in NICUs. She left in 2008, as a new executive team was thinking about selling the company. “It wasn’t the environment that really fostered innovation. And I really wanted to innovate.” 

Armed with a federal-discovery grant and seed capital, Medo launched Medolac in 2009. She also received a USDA grant to explore the feasibility of a milk co-op.  Four years later, Medo, along with her husband and Medolac COO Joseph Medo, relocated to Oregon. (Her daughter, Adrianne Weir, oversees the milk cooperative). “The rent, the cost of employees are all dramatically lower here than in California,” Medo says. The Oregon lifestyle was also appealing: “very family friendly, wholesome, lots of water.”


More Articles

Counterpoint: CLT not as green as people think

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
photo-flickr-glasseyes viewthymbBY GREGG LEWIS | OP-ED

The issue of green-washing remains a significant challenge to those of us who would like to see the building sector in this country do more than make unverifiable claims of sustainability. Transparency about the impacts of a given material is the only way to allow designers to make intelligent choices when selecting building products.


Cream of the Crop

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

Bill Levy of Pacific Ag talked to Oregon Business about new residue markets, the company’s growth strategy and why a biofuel plant is like a large cow.


Inside the Box

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Screening for “culture fit” has become an essential part of the hiring process. But do like-minded employees actually build strong companies — or merely breed consensus culture?


The Cover Story

The Latest
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
100515-cover1015-news-thumbBY CHRIS NOBLE

As we worked on the October cover, it became evident that Nick Symmonds is a hard man to catch — even when he’s not hotfooting it around a track.


Reader Input: School Choice

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Which of the following would be most effective in reducing the cost of operating a public university in Oregon?


One Tough Mayor

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

Betty Roppe steers Prineville into the future.


5 takeaways from the rural Oregon economic report

The Latest
Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released a report on the vitality of rural Oregon this week.  Media reports focused on the number of Californians moving to the "Timber Belt," but the document contained other interesting insights regarding regional challenges and successes.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02