Earlier this week, a London shop started selling ice cream made from human breast milk, cream, sugar and vanilla. It was called baby gaga, was served in a chilled martini glass and retailed for £14 GBP per serving. I use the word “was” because a few days after they started selling it, authorities in London confiscated the ice cream from the shop. They will run tests on the ice cream and determine if it’s safe for human consumption (you can read about it here: http://on.msnbc.com/fJdHAp). I think they’re taking a pause in order to consider if selling this ice cream is a good idea or not.
This is the inevitable end to a stupid idea. Firstly, most STDs can be spread through breast milk. So can alcohol, drugs, and so on. Heck, I know a lot of mothers who couldn’t even eat curry while they were breastfeeding because their babies would balk at the flavour of their milk, or get smelly poos. What is the lifestyle of these mothers donating the milk? It’s not possible to know.
The integrity of the food chain is important. Food safety is important. Cows, goats and sheep live and give milk in a controlled environment. They’re raised to standards, their milk collected and stored in accordance to regulation. If one cow in a herd gets a serious, infectious disease, the whole herd is often put down in order to prevent contamination to humans (as many in Britain and Ireland know only too well). Humans are not put down when they get serious illnesses. They’re treated. Human lifestyles are not regulated.
Aside from food safety concerns, I have other issues with this ice cream. Mainly, I think human breast milk should be for human baby consumption. Not human adult consumption. Clearly, this ice cream served in a martini glass and priced at £14 per serving is for curious adults, not babies. There are women who have problems producing their own breast milk in sufficient quantities for their babies. They could benefit from the milk these women are selling to the ice cream parlour. There are breast milk banks that take donations, properly and thoroughly test it, before passing it on to women and babies in need. One great benefit of donating breast milk is to premature babies who don’t have a developed suck reflex. These babies could die from Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a condition where tissue in parts of the large intestine may start to die. Drinking breast milk instead of formula improves the outcomes for these babies. There are many conditions affecting babies (premature and otherwise) where outcomes can be improved by drinking breast milk. Mothers with excess breast milk could consider donating to help these babies.
Thinking through all this has raised issues for me regarding the use of cow’s milk. If mother’s milk is intended for human babies, isn’t cow’s milk intended for cow babies? Of course it is. Why do I drink it? Is it wrong to use cow’s milk? I care about animal welfare, too, and used to be a vegan. I gave all that up somewhere along the way and am now a total carnivore; glimpses of my former self shine through when I read stories like this, however, and think about cows giving their milk for human consumption. A blog post on animal welfare is for another day, though. For now, I’d just like to urge mothers to keep breast milk for babies.