Cambodia on Tuesday has banned selling and export of breast milk,putting a stop to the business of a U.S.-based company that had been selling the milk in the United States,after reports exposed how women were turning to the controversial trade to boost meagre incomes in one of south-east Asia’s poorest countries.
United Nations child agency UNICEF is worried at the decline in breastfeeding in Cambodia and welcomes the decision.
Ambrosia Labs – known in Cambodia as Khun Meada, which means “gratitude of mothers”, had been exporting milk from more than 90 poor Cambodian women in the capital, Phnom Penh, and then shipped to the US, where it was pasteurised and sold for $20 per 5oz (147ml) pack for more than two years.
The company’s customers are American mothers who want to supplement their babies’ diets or cannot produce enough milk of their own.
The purchase and export of breast milk must stop immediately, Ngor Hong Ly, a Secretary of State at the Council of Ministers, said in an order on Tuesday.
“Despite how poor and difficult Cambodia is, it’s not at a level where we sell breast milk,” Ngor Hong Ly added.
Ros Sopheap, the director of the local women’s rights group Gender and Development for Cambodia (GDC), applauded the government’s decision to bar the trade.
“Even if women agree to do it voluntarily, they often have no other choices and face economic pressure,” she said.
Chea Sam, a 30-year-old mother who once worked for Ambrosia Labs, told AFP in a recent interview that she had been selling her breast milk for three months after the birth of her son.
She said she earned $7.50-$10 a day and she knew at least 20 other mothers doing the same.
“We are regretful that this trade has been banned. It had helped our livelihood a lot,” she said after the exports were initially suspended.
“Breast milk could be considered as human tissue, the same as blood, and, as such, its commercialization in Cambodia should not be supported,” the agency said in a statement to Reuters.