The safety of breast milk purchased online throughout the United Kingdom from websites such as “Only The Breast” has been called into question by the BBC’s Inside Out investigative program. “Only the Breast” is a web-based system of classified ads that connects people buying and selling breast milk. The BBC reported Monday that some of the breast milk being sold online by British mothers contains potentially deadly pathogens. That conclusion was reached after the program sent out a reporter claiming to be the father of a six-month-old baby to purchase milk from a dozen mothers throughout the U.K. The BBC then had all the milk tested by an independent laboratory, finding that four of the 12 samples were positive for E. coli, two were contaminated with the Candida fungus, and one contained Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria blamed in 2012 for the death of four babies in neonatal units in Belfast. The U.K. Food Standards Agency noted that while online sales of breast milk are not illegal, the agency advised consumers not use breast milk purchased over the Internet. The agency added that businesses like “Only the Breast” cannot prove the milk sold is collected and handled using sanitary practices to keep the product from containing harmful viruses and bacteria. FSA can take action against any business found to be selling products that are harmful to public health. “While food hygiene regulations cannot prohibit the sale or supply of human breast milk, retailers or websites supplying or selling breast milk products will need to ensure they are safe for consumption,” the agency stated in response to the BBC report. Breastfed babies have fewer infections and are hospitalized less often, according to researchers who have found that during breastfeeding, antibodies and other germ-fighting factors pass from a mother to her baby and strengthen the immune system. This, in turn, helps lower a baby’s chances of getting many infections, among them meningitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and ear and respiratory infections. That created the demand for online breast milk sales, which can fetch just over $3 per ounce. Dr. Sarah Steele from Queen Mary University of London told the BBC that parents have definitely heard the message that breast milk is best, which has drawn them to the Internet. But she said it is causing a “real problem for infant health,” adding, “We don’t want to see a situation where a baby dies as a consequence.” Steele noted that breast milk sold online is not pasteurized and likely carries dangerous bacteria. About 93 percent of breast milk purchased online was found to contain detectable levels of bacteria because of how it is transported or stored. She says parents don’t know the seller and don’t know how the breast milk has been handled, or if it’s been “watered down” with water, formula, milk, or soy milk.
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