Ministry joins Australian-led working group looking at human milk products

News article

15 April 2019

The Ministry of Health has joined an Australian-led working group looking at the increasing global commercialisation of human breast milk.

The decision to join the group, alongside the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand, was made to provide advice on donor milk banking, and the regulation and importation of human milk products.

“We are aware of interest from international companies wishing to import, market and sell human breast milk products in Australia and New Zealand,” says the Ministry's Dr Pat Tuohy, Chief Advisor, Child and Youth Health.

“Currently in New Zealand, human milk is classified as a human tissue under the Human Tissue Act 2008. Under that act, the sale and marketing of breast milk products is prohibited unless an exemption is granted by the Minister of Health. 

“We have always supported breastfeeding, and that includes the safe use of donor human milk. It’s really important that any use of human milk and human milk products must support, promote and protect infant health outcomes and consider the ethical issues raised by commercialisation."

“There is evidence to show that human milk reduces the risk of some serious conditions, such as necrotising enterocolitis, which has a high mortality in premature infants. In New Zealand, this condition is low by international standards, due to the high volume of donated breast milk in our neonatal units.

“There are currently two donor human milk banks in New Zealand in Christchurch. Donor human milk is primarily used for premature babies and very low birth weight babies. In this situation, a bovine sourced fortifier is usually added to the donated human milk, for extra energy and minerals,” says Dr Tuohy.

“The Australian-led joint working group is looking at a range of issues including the quality of evidence available, the likely impact on donor milk banking should commercialisation be approved; and the ethics of sourcing human milk from developing countries.”

We have recently provided an update to a range of interest parties:

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