UK Shuts Down Breast-Milk Ice Cream, But Is It Safe to Eat?

By Patrick Morgan | March 2, 2011 2:51 pm

Rocky road. Vanilla fudge ripple. Pralines and cream. The hardest decision in the life of some ice cream enthusiasts is choosing a flavor. Government officials, though, have made that choice a little bit easier after they stormed a London ice cream shop and confiscated a flavor made from human breast milk.

Dubbed “Baby Gaga,” this mammary morsel—a blend containing Madagascan vanilla pods, lemon zest, and, yes, human milk—debuted last Friday and was so popular that it sold out the same day. Touted as organic and free-range (I hope so!), this ice cream was created from the milk of 15 lactating women, who were paid $2.40 for each ounce of milk, which explains its whopping price of over $22 per serving.

London authorities put the kibosh on this ice cream after they received two complaints from people who were squeamish at the thought of ingesting a stranger’s body fluids. The fear (beyond the awkwardness factor) is that people innocently enjoying a novel ice cream flavor could contract hepatitis—a virus that can be passed on through breast milk. So is Baby Gaga really dangerous?Matt O’Connor, founder of the company that created the flavor, predictably doesn’t think so. “As far as we are aware there is no law prohibiting a business from selling breast milk ice cream,” he said in a press release. His company screened the breast milk donors using the same procedures used in the UK’s National Health Service to screen blood donors—all before pasteurizing the milk.

But some researchers are not as keen on breast milk ice cream. Isis Mullarky, a Virginia Tech dairy scientist who focuses on diseases and infections, told me over the phone that while pasteurization would certainly take care of the bacterial side of things, that still leaves the viruses. “There is an inherent risk in the human consumption of human food—more so than the human consumption of animal food,” she said. Whereas the the viruses that come from cows have the potential make you sick, the ones from humans are much more likely to be risky, she added. O’Connor says Baby Gaga is screened for hepatitis and other viruses just as hospital screen blood donors, but there is still some inherent risk in blood donations; no test is 100% accurate. For accident victims needing rapid blood transfusions, that inherent—albeit low—risk in contracting a virus is worthwhile, but the same can’t be said for Baby Gaga—unless you’re one of the people for whom ice cream is a medical necessity (and I know some).

While Baby Gaga may be safe, you might want to ask yourself if the extra risk in drinking human breast milk is worth it. In the words of Mullarky, “I think I’ll stick with cow’s milk.”

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80beats: Could an Ingredient in Ice Cream Prevent HIV Transmission?

  • Scott Belyea

    “…after they received two complaints from people who were squeamish at the thought of ingesting a stranger’s body fluids.”

    An interesting objection. Presumably they’re OK with ingesting the body fluids of a big hairy smelly dung-encrusted cloven-hoofed cud-chewer.

    Just no accounting for taste, I guess …

  • Archie

    What, no video on the details of the milking process?

  • Alan Tait

    If viruses and bacteria in human food pose a risk, could we have evolved an anti-cannibalism instinct? I’ve read that we have an instinct against incest.

  • Brian Too

    Now that’s interesting. Why do I get an automatic Ick factor from the thought of breast milk ice cream?

    I mean, as @1. Scott Belyea points out, you can build an argument that we ought to be repulsed by cows milk. And yet I don’t.

    So is this just food familiarity? Some cultural bias? Or is is deeper and evolutionarily rooted?

    As for Mullarky’s comment that cows milk ought to be safer, I’m not sure I completely buy it. Yes human milk (if it does contain contain bacteria/viruses) should in principle contain ones pre-selected to be compatible to humans.

    However cows milk is an incredibly widespread human food source. Humans are exposed to whatever it contains all the time. And I’d say our food handling procedures are very well understood. Perhaps not always followed, but mostly so. Milk spoils so easily that you cannot get away with lax food handling procedures for long.

    And now I’ve wandered slightly off topic. Sorry!

  • mariner

    Some people take the risk of raw oysters…To each their own..

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