Tuesday, April 12, 2011


A recent report about development of an ice cream type product from human milk in the UK has raised many questions regarding the ethical, legal and safety aspects of peddling such a product in the open market. No doubt this product will have many takers because human milk is supposed to have many advantages as compared to normal dairy milk in terms of nutrition and health benefits. Massive promotion of of breast feeding at least till about 12 months of baby's life has further given an aura to the human milk. The fact that human milk is not freely available makes it all the more desirable like the mythological "forbidden fruit"! The innovators who mooted the idea, developed the product and introduced it in the market, had to discontinue the product at least temporarily till the food safety authorities wanted it to be tested and assessed for any potential safety hazards.

Human milk is a precious commodity and a baby's survival and active development depend very much on breast feeding. Though some mothers do wean away their babies from breast milk due to some reasons or the other, a vast majority do nurse their babies with religious fervor to ensure their even and robust development. If this is so the very concept of any commercial product derived from human milk cannot have a sustainable source for making the project financially viable. According to the innovators their initial product offering was based on donations of breast milk received from volunteers though it is not clear as to the motivation of these mothers in parting with this precious fluid. Probably extenuating circumstances could have persuaded these mothers to make such donations with a perceived sense of commitment to help fellow citizens in a small way.

An important issue that cropped up during the marketing of human milk derived ice cream was whether the mothers were screened for any diseases, especially viral ones, which could be transmitted to others through the breast milk. Dairy milk industry is so well organized that every drop of milk marketed can be traced to the source for taking remedial action in the event of any communicable disease caused by it. The health authorities are to be lauded for becoming alert as soon as the product went on sale and subjecting the product to tests for hepatitis. How ever the larger question still remains unanswered and that is how regular testing can be organized for such a low volume product industry. Besides there are no well laid down standards for the product and no one is sure how much superior such a product would be to the traditional dairy based ice cream products. How far some of the unique biological substances that distinguish human milk from dairy milk will remain active after the processing is another critical issue.

What is interesting is the reported readiness by more than 200 mothers to donate their milk for making ice cream, though the manufacturer swears by the "donation" story. If an industry based on human milk is allowed to be established, what would be its repercussions on the society? Will it be like the "blood donation" industry where pecuniary benefits do play a part in maintaining the stock in many blood banks? Will the poor be attracted to sell their milk, starving their own children, for making an extra buck that may put the life of the children in great jeopardy? What is the motivation for the crazy consumers who do not mind paying a premium price to lay their hands on breast milk ice cream? One really has no answer to these logical questions.

Recent reports about development of GM animals for yielding milk similar to that of humans again raises perturbing questions regarding the direction of scientific research which can cause unknown miseries to millions of people in this universe. There are many, many areas of food research that cry for attention which can benefit common man and it is better that food scientists concentrate their energy in these fields for most wide spread benefits.


1 comment:

Melting Brownies said...

No matter how legal or safe it is (which it isnt considering the point that they may stunt the devepolment of thier own children), it is absolutely not ethical.
Instead mothers having excess of milk should help mothers having trouble producing breast milk. maybe it should even be packaged and given subsidised to children who really need the milk.
The grown ups can find other 'value added products'