Cambodia bans breast milk trade

Unicef says Cambodian breastfeeding rates are falling.

An American firm that was paying Cambodian women about US$7 a day to supply breast milk to sell in the US has been ordered to halt the operation. 

Cambodia has permanently banned exports of human breast milk, which the US-based company Ambrosia Labs was selling on to American parents and bodybuilders.

“Even though we are still poor, we are not so poor that we have to sell human breast milk,” said Cambodia’s Secretary of State Ngor Hongly.

Ambrosia Labs, known in Cambodia as Khun Meada, meaning “Gratitude of Mothers”, has been exporting more than 90 Cambodian women’s milk for more than two years.

The company, established by a former Mormon missionary, sells human milk online for US$19 for around 150ml, described as enough for “one to two feedings”.

The operation was recently suspended while the Cambodian Ministry of Health investigated the impact on babies of nursing mothers selling their milk and whether the trade illegally trafficked human organs. 

“I am poor and selling breast milk helped me a lot,” Chea Sam, 30, told AFP. “We all cried when the company informed us about the suspension. We want it to be in business.”

Ryan Newell, co-owner of Ambrosia Labs, has said mothers were allowed to sell their milk only twice a day.

He claimed that the woman were required to wait until their babies were six months old: when the World Health Organisation recommends food is added to an infant’s diet. 

“We’re not taking away from those children,” Newell said from Orem in Utah, according to AP. 

“We’re just taking the extra that those mothers would be losing at that point if they start weening their children.” 

Newell warned that the women now faced a return to poverty.

“We’ve been able to offer these women work where they are earning two to three times what they would be making elsewhere. They’re able to stay home with their kids more because they are not working the insane hours.” 

Ros Sopheap, the director of the women’s rights group Gender and Development for Cambodia, applauded the ban. 

“Even if women agree to do it voluntarily, they often have no other choices and face economic pressure,” she was quoted saying by AFP.

Breastfeeding of Cambodian newborns during their first six months dropped to 65 per cent in 2014 from 75 per cent in 2010, according to the UN’s children’s charity Unicef.

“Breast milk could be considered as human tissue, the same as blood, and, as such, its commercialisation in Cambodia should not be supported,” the agency said.

Picture credit: Wikimedia