Authorities Race To Regulate Booming Breast Milk Industry

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — It could trade for 400 times more than the price of crude oil and 2,000 times more than iron ore. If sold off the shelf, it could cost more than 150 times the price of a gallon of cow’s milk and 15 times more than coffee.

Going for as much as $4 per ounce, breast milk is a hot commodity that is emerging as a surprisingly cutthroat industry, one that states are seeking to regulate amid a battle for control between nonprofit and for-profit banks that supply hospital neonatal units.

The debate among the for-profit and nonprofit organizations can be sharp-elbowed. It centers on whose processes result in the safest milk for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units, which need the milk if a mother has difficulty producing enough or the child has trouble latching. Each side claims the moral high ground, with nonprofits generally saying milk distribution should be altruistic and for-profit companies arguing mothers deserve to be compensated.

In the United States, there are two for-profit companies and soon to be three, and one nonprofit that oversees 15 milk banks in the U.S. in addition to three in Canada. Ten nonprofit banks are in development. Against this backdrop, lawmakers in New Jersey and Michigan are considering legislation to license banks, while legislators in California, Maryland, New York and Texas already have regulations.

Mothers have long had far from a monolithic view on the question of milk banking, but what’s changing is the availability of more options as the industry matures. For some, the work involved in cleaning bottle parts and in pumping and storing their milk warrants being paid. Others view donating their milk, considered superior to formula in nutrition and immunity-building qualities, as a charitable service.

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