Breast-milk banks pushing for more federal oversight
By Patricia Wen, Globe Staff, 10/24/2002
After this month's discovery that the West Nile virus can be transmitted through breast milk, the nation's human-milk banks, which serve thousands of newborns across the country, are asking for federal oversight to add credibility to their industry.
Federal authorities appear to be taking a closer look at the handful of banks nationwide - the modern-day version of wet nurses - that provide breast milk to babies whose mothers cannot nurse, usually because of sickness. One milk bank representative said she received a call within the last month from an official of the US Food and Drug Administration asking about safety issues.
''We welcome the idea of working with the FDA to develop guidelines and initiate inspections,'' said Mary Rose Tully, the former chairwoman of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. ''It would protect the public from charlatans and give us a sense of completion.''
This growing industry (sales of donated breast milk are up 25 percent in the past year) relies on the free donations of breast milk from lactating mothers who have a surplus. The milk is then pooled and pasteurized before being sold to mothers whose doctors prescribe it. The human-milk industry today resembles the blood bank industry of decades past when regulations were light and demand was surging.
Dr. Kimberly Lee, associate director of the newborn nursery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said she applauds the idea of more federal regulation of milk banks, particularly if it adds legitimacy to an industry that provides breast milk to vulnerable premature babies among others.