Monday 11 April 2011

News: Milking it!

A lengthy but incredibly shocking news that I have read a few days ago! After all that camera talk, I think it is time to take a break and get read some milky news!

It started in London, but can you believe it? Hong Kong has it too!

We have Baby GaGa in Hong Kong? No! Not the ice-cream! But we have commercial producers!

Milking it!

Natalie Wong

Friday, April 08, 2011

The time-honored slogan "Breast is Best" has never rang out so true, no matter the patter of some promoters of infant formula trying to persuade gullible mothers otherwise.

Besides being the nutritionally perfect food for infants, mother's milk enjoys unbeatable advantages in potency and safety - and price, naturally - over factory-mixed formula.

We know all too well about unscrupulous formula makers in the mainland who brought torment to hundreds of thousands of families and tragedy to some by using illegal additives in their products.

Doubts about quality there persist - seen in the shelf-clearing visitors to Hong Kong who have created shortages and driven up prices of reliable brands of infant formula.

And a supply squeeze has worsened with worries that popular if pricy Japanese milk powder could be tainted by radiation amid the country's nuclear shambles.

But along with unthinking women who worry about what breast-feeding is going to do to their figures and plump for an alternative, there are new mothers who have a problem producing enough, or any, of their own milk. So they turn to formula to supplement or replace altogether what comes naturally to most.

Others, who don't have the budgetary problems of many young families, seek a more radical - though ages-old - way out of the feeding dilemma. In doing so, they give new meaning to what scientists talk about as "liquid gold" when referring to mother's milk.

They tap into the world of trading in breast milk - what appears to be a lucrative underground business in the territory and one that relies mostly on the internet for generating sales.

The Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers Association, for instance, often finds offers of breast milk for sale appearing in a discussion forum on its website. They are removed promptly, but the business of selling breast milk in Hong Kong - which goes against safety - continues.

Regular customers

One local seller of mother's milk for the past 12 months is a nurse in a public hospital.
In her 30s and with two youngsters, she counts at least six mothers as regular customers and appears to supplement her salary quite handsomely with the liquid product exchanged for cash in MTR stations.

An insight into the business was gained when a woman reporter from The Standard's sister publication Eastweek magazine posed as a new mother needing breast milk and contacted the nurse - who we call Chan - by telephone.

Nurse Chan claimed to be passing along her excess breast milk with the purest of intentions, but she went on to run off a string of what sounded distinctly like sales pitches while revealing something of herself and her place in the business.

She had an excess of milk from nursing her children aged four months and 18 months, Chan said at the outset of the conversation, and she was just making a few extra dollars as she cleared out a freezer full of breast milk.

"Not many people are like me and have an abundant supply of breast milk even after feeding the kids," she said. "If I don't pump it out, my breasts are so painful, I have difficulty swallowing and I cannot sleep well. And it's embarrassing when my clothes are soaked with milk. That's why I just sell what I have produced in excess."

Having sought to justify her actions, Chan moved on to talk proudly of the supposed quality of the product.

"My milk is much more concentrated and nutritious than powdered milk," she said. "I don't smoke or drink and have a balanced diet." Additionally, she takes vitamin pills and fish oil capsules every day.

Her children enjoyed good health thanks to the "exclusive" breast milk she had for them.
The groundwork laid, Chan met the reporter at an MTR station and handed over a box (which bore the words "Hospital Ward") containing five 400-milliliter plastic packs of milk and an ice pack for keeping it cool. Each bag bore a label with a date of production and was enough for two feedings, Chan said.

(Priced at HK$80 per pack, Chan's milk works out at nearly five times more expensive than a popular Japanese milk powder.)

As the deal was finalized with HK$400 going her way, Chan pointed out that this particular batch was not frozen. "This is my fresh supply," she said, adding: "It contains a lot of antibodies for your baby."

Her frozen product, she went on, needed to be thawed under warm rather than in boiling water to avoid loss of antibodies.

Directions for use done with, she offered assurances of her own place in society and the business of motherhood, pointing to a proper job and healthy family by showing her ID document for a public hospital and photographs of her two children.

She then claimed to have been encouraged by friends into selling her excess milk, and it was well worth it: she was happy to know that it was going to help babies in need of nutritious milk and there was also the extra income.

But the overflowing mother then intimated there was rather more to her stock than what would fit in a freezer compartment of a refrigerator in her home.

She had stored more than 100 packs of breast milk for sale, Chan said. "Freezers at home and at the hospital where I work are full of my extra milk." Breaking into a grin, she claimed: "Colleagues are so jealous of me."

Observations over the course of a week revealed that the woman was selling milk to several women at MTR stations on Hong Kong Island.

So came the day that the reporter disclosed her true identity and sought to learn more about Chan's business.

The nurse didn't appear to be knocked off balance. Instead, she defended her actions by saying Hong Kong does not have a breast milk bank for mothers with a surplus to donate to those in need.

She had been overseas, Chan said, and the practice of passing along excess mother's milk "is not rare elsewhere. It's only Hong Kong people who feel strange about milk sharing.
"I sell my milk, but not as a way to make money. I have a good income as a nurse. Do you think I will get rich by selling breast milk?

"And I won't sell it to strangers," she claimed - ignoring the fact she had struck a deal with a stranger in the shape of the reporter. "All my clients are friends of mine."

People buy her milk, Chan added, because they trust her product, and the money she makes is compensation for her time and a supply of breast pumps.

Aside from a few gaps and contradictions in her account, Chan is correct that the concept of feeding breast milk to people other than one's own child is well accepted elsewhere in the world, and it goes beyond infants.

In the mainland, for instance, there is some demand at the other extreme of the age spectrum.
Rich old men hire wet nurses to breast-feed them, believing mother's milk is an elixir for more years of life and good health.

In Switzerland, a restaurant collects breast milk to go into soup and sauces to accompany steak. And an ice-cream parlor in London sells a breast-milk- based treat at 12 (HK$150) a scoop.

The United States is home to online Only the Breast, which promotes the buying and selling of mother's milk.

A vendor in New York recently posted an advertisement stating: "My name is Jackie. I am 21 years old. I had a baby mid-March and have extra milk. If you are interested please let me know. The price is US$3 [HK$23] an ounce. Thanks!"

Potential risks

In Hong Kong, however, caution is advised because of potential risks in the casual sharing of mother's milk.

The director of the Union Reproductive Medicine Centre, Edward Loong Ping-leung, looks at a sample of the milk that Chan has sold as he talks about the risk of taking milk from unscreened providers.

Pointing to Chan's product, he says it is not artificial milk as it is yellowish with precipitates. But it cannot be proven to be pure human milk - rather than from other mammals - without a DNA test.

Even it there is a confirmed sample of human milk, he adds: "Some viruses and diseases like HIV, pulmonary tuberculosis and hepatitis are asymptomatic and can be transmitted through breast milk." Loong also says that a seller may have failed to sterilize her hands and nipples to eliminate viruses and bacteria.

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung says that selling breast milk may go against Hong Kong food laws.

It is not listed as a prohibited product, but any milk or milk beverage meant for human consumption cannot be sold without a proper license. And the government, Luk adds, will not issue an approval unless the product has gone though a heat-treatment process.
Penalties for violators include jail for up to six months and a fine of HK$900 for every day that sales are conducted.

A "Breast is Best" advocate says the concept of milk sharing is viewed as unsavory by many people in Hong Kong despite the acceptance of wet nursing dating from the distant past.
Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers Association vice chairwoman Chan Po- king also points to the ads that show up in its discussion forum and says they are pulled as soon as they are spotted.

"We insist that a mother should nurse her infant with her own milk," she explains. "It's just like our blood. How can it be traded for money?

"Even it's not for making money, it should not be shared casually."

Taiwan is among places that have milk banks for mothers experiencing difficulties in breast-feeding, Chan Po- king notes, but donors are put through rigorous screenings and milk is pasteurized.

So what's the outlook for the mother's milk market?

Well, the percentage of babies discharged from public hospitals who were breast-fed rose from 53 percent in 2000 to 73 percent in 2009. The Food and Health Bureau attributes that to more advice being offered to mothers.

But a survey last year by the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers Association showed only 12 percent of mothers breast fed for more than four months. A majority gave up because they had to return to work after maternity leave.
So women like nurse Chan appear set to stay in business.

That was quite some reading, wasn't it? But it was really juicy bit of news. I was honestly surprised to hear women doing private business in this way. Sounds awful to me because it seems very unhygienic, unless the milk directly goes into the baby's mouth, I would say "Yucks!"

If you haven't had enough, I have one more video here, but I won't embed it into this entry (not for under-18 years old to watch.)


patter -- (n) [U] continuous and sometimes funny speech or talk, especially used by someone trying to sell things or by an entertainer
infant -- (n) [C] a baby or a very young child
persuade -- (vb)[T] to make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to them and making them believe it
gullible -- (adj) easily deceived or tricked, and too willing to believe everything that other people say
unbeatable -- (adj) unable to be defeated or improved because of excellent quality

unscrupulous -- (adj) behaving in a way that is dishonest or unfair in order to get what you want
additive -- (n)[C] a substance which is added to food in order to improve its taste or appearance or to preserve it
persist -- (vb)[I] If an unpleasant feeling or situation persists, it continues to exist
shamble -- (vb)[I + adverb or prepositionto walk slowly and awkwardly, without lifting your feet correctly

budgetary -- (adj) about how much money you will spend on something
radical -- (adj) believing or expressing the belief that there should be great or extreme social or political change
lucrative -- (adj) (especially of a business, job or activity) producing a lot of money
run sth off -- phrasal verb [MIf you run off copies of something, you print them

exclusive -- (adj) limited to only one person or group of people
thaw -- (vb) [I or T] to (cause to) change from a solid, frozen state to a liquid or soft one, because of an increase in temperature
elixir -- (n) [C usually singular] literary a substance, usually a liquid, with a magical power to cure, improve or preserve
asymptomatic -- (adj) In medicine, a disease is considered asymptomatic if a patient is a carrier for a disease or infection but experiences no symptoms.
sterilize -- (vb) [T] to perform a medical operation on someone in order to make them unable to have children
eliminate --  (vb) [T] to remove or take away
barrister -- (n) [C] a type of lawyer in Britain, Australia and some other countries who is qualified to give specialist legal advice and can argue a case in both higher and lower law courts
unsavory -- (adj) unpleasant, or morally offensive
pasteurize -- (vb) (UK usually pasteuriseto heat something, especially milk, at a controlled temperature for a fixed period of time in order to kill bacteria
discharge -- (vb) [T] to allow someone officially to leave somewhere, especially a hospital or a court of law


Ice Cream made from Human Breast Milk on sale in London @ YouTube

Milking it!@ The Standard

Café au lait @ YouTube