Why Commercialisation Of Mother’s Milk Is Raising Ethical Questions

Bengaluru-based Neolacta Lifesciences Pvt Ltd is the only company in Asia that is selling mother’s milk for profit. The profit-based business is facing criticism and opposition from activists. 

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Nupur Bidla of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) told TOI that “It is absolutely shocking that a company is being allowed to collect breast milk from young mothers and sell it like a dairy product with a huge price tag claiming to have added value to it.”

They have objected to the commercialization of mother’s milk whose license was granted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

With growing objections, the FSSAI cancelled the company’s license and stated that the sale of mother’s milk is not allowed under its guidelines. 

During an inspection conducted by FSSAI found out that the company is still selling mother’s milk but through the Ayush licence granted in 2021. The company has re-introduced the product with a new name ‘Naariksheera’ (breast milk).

What is Breast Milk Bank?

Breast Milk Bankthehansindia

Breast Milk Banks also known as Comprehensive Lactation Management Centres (CLMC) and Lactation Management Unit (LMU) are established under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines i.e. “National Guidelines on Establishment of Lactation Management Centres in Public Health Facilities”.

At present, India has over 80 non-profit human milk banks in India. This is not commercialised but donation based. The milk is used to feed sick and premature babies when mothers are not able to feed them for several reasons. 

Breast milk might be free for poor patients but also charged a few hundred for those who can afford it. The milk banks are generally attached to government hospitals and provide free milk. 

After the collection of milk, it is pasteurised and analysed for nutrient content and then frozen and stored.

What is the need for such banks?

The 5th Report of Assessment of India’s Policy and Programmes on Breastfeeding and Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2018 stated that 6 out of 10 babies born in India are not able to begin breastfeeding within one hour of birth despite an improvement in institutional deliveries. India scored 45 out of 100.

Breast Milk BankWFYI

Breast milk is the only source of nutrition for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. Mother’s breast milk within an hour of birth ensures that the baby gets the colostrum or first milk, which is rich in nutrients and antibodies.

A report published by UNICEF India showed that mothers, both in high and low-income countries, suffer poor healthcare and nutrition which resulted in feeding babies with honey or sugared water as their first oral feed, referred to as prelacteal feed.

To tackle the issue, the milk banks help in answering lactation management queries and convincing new mothers about the benefits of donating milk.

There is a law in India to interfere in the area but it does not have any authorised government officers and is dependent on NGOs to check if the law is being followed.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare promoted breastfeeding by launching national programmes called, MAA – “Mothers Absolute Affection” and Vatsalya – Maatri Amrit Kosh was started in association with the Norwegian government.

Is it an unethical business?

The commercialisation of breast milk is popularising around the world including in India, Cambodia, the US and England.

Breast Milkdnaindia

According to a report published in The Conversation, one such breast milk company is selling six 50-ml bottles for £45 (Rs 4,300). It has become a business of profit now. The women in poverty are primarily the donor for these companies. Further, the business is commodifying a woman-produced substance.

Neolacta Lifesciences Pvt Ltd

Established in 2016, Neolact first obtained the licence in the dairy products category from the Karnataka office of the FSSAI. The company was started after Cambodia prohibited the selling of breastmilk. The people of the country protested against the commercialisation, in which an American for-profit company Ambrosia was sourcing breast milk from poor women in Cambodia and selling it in the US.

Breast Milk Labneolacta

In the context of Cambodia, UNICEF had said in a statement that the trade of mother’s milk was “exploiting vulnerable and poor women for for-profit and commercial purposes”. 

The company sells frozen breast milk and human milk-derived powder. It charges Rs 4,500 for 300 ml of frozen breast milk.

Saurabh Aggarwal, MD of Neolacta, told TOI that “the company has significant experience in the human milk space supplying technology to set up the first milk bank in Australia. 

He said that the company has “benefited over 51,000 plus premature babies across 450 hospitals” in the last 5 years.

In a research article published in December 2020 titled, ‘Nurture commodified?, it is said that women, mainly in rural areas, were actively being pursued by NGOs and associated ‘health workers’ and paid either with cash or with food packets.

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