December 20, 2009 12:00am
A BLACK market in breast milk has developed in Australia as families desperate to feed their babies the natural elixir are being charged up to $1000 a litre on the internet.
One mother contacted the Gold Coast based Mother's Milk Bank to ask what the real "going rate" was for breast milk after online sharks demanded the extortionate amount when she placed a web advert seeking human milk.
Mother's Milk Bank director Marea Ryan told her that the not-for-profit bank sold milk for $50 for 1.2 litres.
"I think it is increasing more and more as people become a lot more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding," Ms Ryan said.
Breast milk provides antibodies that protect babies against disease and is especially important for premature tots.
The news comes after The Sunday Mail revealed last week that the Gold Coast milk bank – which receives no government funding – may have to close in February if it doesn't raise $50,000 through donations or sponsorship to cover the cost of its pasteurisation unit.
RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) lactation expert Dr Jennifer James said she was aware of the growing unregulated black market.
"It is very dangerous because in an unregulated fashion there are no checks and balances, the milk would not have been tested for viruses and bacteria," Dr James said.
"Women are being put in this insidious position because of a lack of breast milk banks nationally.
"They have no option but to look outside the system."
The risky practice has increased with the advent of the internet where women advertise their milk for sale.
Dr James said there should be breast milk banks in all major hospitals but blamed inconsistent legislation for making them difficult to set up.
"In some states it is classified as a food while in others it is human tissue or bodily fluids," she said. "The milk bank at the Royal Prince Alfred in Sydney had to close down because it was classified as bodily fluid. We need nationally consistent guidelines."
The Gold Coast milk bank fought with government regulators to have breast milk classified as a food.
Breast milk in Queensland currently comes under the Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1979 and is defined as a human tissue.
The Federal Government says it supports a national breast feeding strategy
but Health Minister Nicola Roxon said there were no plans to fund "any specific milk banks".
To help the Gold Coast milk bank see www.mothersmilkbank.com.au