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Local breast milk for sale in the US

A woman breastfeeds her newborn child earlier this year at the Maternal and Child Health Center in Phnom Penh.
A woman breastfeeds her newborn child earlier this year at the Maternal and Child Health Center in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Local breast milk for sale in the US

A former Mormon missionary has established a company selling human breast milk harvested from Cambodian mothers to customers in the US.

Ambrosia Labs collects the milk at a premises in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district, according to local church members acquainted with the company. It is then frozen before being sent to the US and pasteurised.

According to the Orem, Utah, company’s website, the milk costs $45 for 450ml.

In a tariff ruling published online by US Customs and Border Protection, the product was to be “sold as a food item for infants and as a nutritional supplement for bodybuilders”.

Ambrosia Labs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

However, in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune published yesterday, founder Bronzson Woods said the mothers were paid between $0.50 and $1 for each 30ml of breast milk, which was collected twice a day. He said the donors’ children were required to be at least 6 months old, the age before which the World Health Organisation recommends infants to be fed exclusively breast milk.

“We don’t want to be taking milk out of children’s mouths,” Woods said.

Woods first came to Cambodia as a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and returned earlier this year to set up the breast milk “donation centre”. “If someone wants human milk, they should be able to get safe breast milk from a trusted supplier at a reasonable price,” Woods said.

In the US, human breast milk is only commercially available through milk banks – which only supply mothers for consumption by infants – and so-called “peer-to-peer” services where providers and buyers complete transactions over the internet.

Ambrosia Labs major selling point is quality control compared to the peer-to-peer sellers, which can be contaminated with diseases.

In recent years, human breast milk has been hailed as a cure-all and “super food” with various supposed benefits.

However, an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in June dismissed these purported benefits – which include boosting the immune system, increasing muscle mass, speeding recovery from exercise and curing erectile dysfuction.

“Such purported benefits do not stand up clinically, however,” the paper said. “Nutritionally, there is less protein in breast milk than other milks like cow’s milk. Chemical and environmental contaminants are known to make their way into breast milk, just like the food chain more broadly.

“No scientific study has evidenced that direct adult consumption of human milk for medicinal properties offers anything more than a placebo effect.”

Ros Sopheap, head of NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, said there was a tradition in Cambodia of mothers breastfeeding the infants of neighbours who could not express milk temporarily. “Occasionally we help each other,” she said.

When asked what she thought of adults consuming breast milk, she laughed. “That’s very strange. This is the first time I’ve heard about it.”

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