Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exports of breast milk halted



Exports of breast milk halted

A woman breast feeds her new born at the Maternal and Child Health Center in Phnom Penh.
A woman breast feeds her new born at the Maternal and Child Health Center in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Exports of breast milk halted

The government yesterday temporarily banned the export of breast milk from Cambodian women to the US market, citing fears that children’s nutrition may be neglected.

The decision to halt exports from Ambrosia Labs – the only company currently collecting Cambodian breast milk to sell in the States – was signed off by Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth yesterday, according to Rath Nisay, legal officer at the General Department of Customs and Excise.

The temporary suspension is to allow the Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities to determine whether the practice – which has been going on for well over a year – is, in fact, legal.

“The big concern is about Cambodian children’s nutrition,” Nisay said.

“We suspended the exports because we are not sure if the mother provides enough breast milk to their baby or if they only keep breast milk for selling and find other food for the baby.”

Bronzson Woods, founder of Utah-based Ambrosia Labs, which operates out of Stung Meanchey, yesterday said “we have suspended all operation in Cambodia for the time being”.

“We informed the donors well ahead of time what was going on,” he said via email. “Customs has requested that we get a ruling from the Ministry of Health confirming that breast milk is not a human organ.”

In a 2015 interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Woods stressed: “We don’t want to be taking milk out of children’s mouths.” Nisay confirmed the company had provided documents showing women were not employed by them until they had breastfed their baby for the first six months.

According to an article on Vice.com published last week and authored by a former Post reporter, about 50 women – many of them poor – have been employed by the company to sell their excess breast milk for 64 cents an ounce, typically making a little over $7 a day. The milk is then sold in the US for $4 an ounce.

In an interview with AFP, Chea Sam, a 30-year-old mother, said she had been selling her breast milk for the past three months, earning up to $10 a day, six days a week.

“I am poor, and selling breast milk helped me a lot,” she said.

“We all cried when the company informed us about the suspension. We want it to be in business.”

In a YouTube video posted by “Kun Meada”, which roughly translates to “gratitude for the mother” in Khmer, a man purporting to be Woods’s father asks the prime minister and the Health Ministry to change tack.

The man, who identifies himself as Lemonde Woods, spoke of the company’s mission to “empower women” and “do business well by doing good”.

“We’re anxious to give that good here to Cambodia as well,” he said, explaining that donated breast milk could be used to nourish abandoned babies in the Kingdom.

“But if we can’t keep the doors open and continue to export into America to . . . sell it to women and babies there in America who need it, then this business is over.”

Another customs official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak with the media, added that there was concern about the export of a human product and questioned whether it existed on a similar plane to organ trafficking.

“Because it is from the human body, we are afraid they have a virus,” he said. He admitted the company had exported the breast milk on six occasions already.

“Yes, but it was just a little, that’s why we allowed them to do it without permission from the Ministry of Health; it was only a little and a sample only, that’s why we let them go,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and