PETA, known for their outrageous activist stunts, has found their way into the headlines yet again with a recent letter they sent to Ben & Jerry's. Why, you ask? I'll let the letter itself explain.
"On behalf of PETA and our more than 2 million members and supporters, I'd like to bring your attention to an innovative new idea from Switzerland that would bring a unique twist to Ben and Jerry's.
Storchen restaurant is set to unveil a menu that includes soups, stews, and sauces made with at least 75 percent breast milk procured from human donors who are paid in exchange for their milk. If Ben and Jerry's replaced the cow's milk in its ice cream with breast milk, your customers-and cows-would reap the benefits...
The breast is best! Won't you give cows and their babies a break and our health a boost by switching from cow's milk to breast milk in Ben and Jerry's ice cream?"
I understand the sentiment - cruel treatment of cows and calves, yadda, yadda, etc. But... I simply can't bring myself to even think about buying breast milk ice cream. If you want to make it and eat it you go right ahead, but I'm sorry, it's just not for me.
For one, it's gross. But that aside, I don't think it's a good idea scientifically. While the PETA letter does outlines some of the links between cow's milk and health issues, they tactfully neglect to mention the possible risks of using human breast milk. HIV, tuberculosis, and other diseases as well as some drugs and antibiotics are transmitted through breast milk. So without some FDA-approved method of making breast milk safe for general consumption, you can bet that I won't drink any (and, considering the low demand, I doubt there's guidelines currently in place). To add to that, no formal studies (that I could find) have looked at how drinking human breast milk affects an adult, so for all we know, it could have all the same health drawbacks as cow's milk.
To be fair and unbiased, there are some people who suggest that breast milk is beneficial for adults as well as children. One study from 1995 did show that a protein in human breast milk, alpha-lactalbumin, killed brain tumor cells in a test tube. The same team used the compound in 2004 to destroy warts caused by HPV (Click to see study). Some patients have tried consuming human breast milk to treat cancer or boost immune systems, but there has been no scientific study that shows whether drinking breast milk does, in fact, help in those situations.
Bottom line: It's still gross. It's effects are wholly unknown in adults. And again, it's gross. I agree with Ben & Jerry's response: "We applaud PETA's novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother's milk is best used for her child."