Families on alert after an investigation found lead in breast milk products given to newborns
The government has ordered a recall of breast milk given to newborns after an investigation found some of it was contaminated with lead, the Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Around 30 families have been contacted by the Food Standards Agency after tests found milk supplied by NeoKare Nutrition and given to their infants through the NHS contained elevated levels of the toxic metal, which can be particularly harmful to young children.
NeoKare is the country’s only private milk bank and the discovery raises new concerns about the UK’s growing commercial trade in human milk.
Around 30 families have been contacted by the Food Standards Agency after tests found milk supplied by NeoKare Nutrition and given to their infants through the NHS contained elevated levels of the toxic metal, which can be particularly harmful to young children
While NHS milk banks have existed for decades and rely on donations, NeoKare sources its milk from women willing to “pump for profit”. Its milk products – including powdered and frozen breast milk – have been used to feed babies in seven NHS hospitals, according to the FSA.
Yesterday’s FSA recall of four NeoKare products involved a powdered “milk fortifier” used to boost the nutritional content of breast milk given to premature babies. It was given to some infants as part of a clinical trial at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
Human milk naturally contains some traces of the metal and there is no legislation setting a legal maximum level. However, the fortified product, intended solely for medical use, has a legal maximum limit.
Lead can damage the brain and nervous system and retard growth and development, but problems are generally associated with repeated exposure to high doses over long periods of time.
The company was investigated following an anonymous tip to Trading Standards, which took samples from NeoKare’s processing plant in Redditch, near Birmingham, and then ran tests at a government laboratory.
The FSA’s Junior Johnson said: “This situation is understandably a cause for concern for the parents and guardians involved. We have worked closely with health authorities and the NHS to assess the health risk, which is likely to be low.’
The FSA probe sheds new light on the UK’s increasingly popular human breast milk trade – a practice campaigners say should be made illegal amid fears that women are being exploited amid the cost of living crisis.
There is a growing demand for breast milk to be sold online in private Facebook groups, mainly to other mothers who buy it for around £1 an ounce. But there’s also a more surprising — and growing — market of men, such as those with breast milk fetishes.
Breast milk may also appeal to bodybuilders who believe its high nutrient content increases muscle mass, and athletes hoping to increase performance, as well as cancer patients.
While women who work with NeoKare are screened for infectious diseases before their milk is sold and the milk is processed and pasteurized at a specialist facility in Worcestershire, the unregulated online trade is not subject to any health controls. The milk can be diluted with water or mixed with milk from other sources. Auction site eBay has banned their sale on the site.
Linden Jack, head of food safety policy at the FSA, said: “We strongly advise against buying human milk from individuals, even over the internet, as it could be harmful. If you are procuring breast milk for your babies, you should seek advice from your doctor.”
But the gains to be made are substantial. Last year, British mum Mila De’Brito called breast milk “liquid gold” in a viral TikTok post, in which she claimed she made £10,000 selling it to bodybuilders.
Many women selling online have now been recruited by NeoKare, which has lowered the price it is willing to pay them, some told the MoS.
Anna, from North Somerset, sold to endurance runners and bodybuilders via private social media groups before joining NeoKare when the cost of living crisis hit while on maternity leave with her second child, who is now 18 months old.
She said the company privately messaged her on Facebook after seeing her post offering her surplus milk for sale.
She said: “The income has helped a lot financially. At its peak, when the rate was £1 an ounce, I was making £1,000 a month.”
But she soon felt “taken advantage” when NeoKare lowered the price to 25p an ounce. Parents who buy it online privately from the company will pay £45 for six 50ml bottles of frozen milk – more than 20 times what Anna paid.
Anna said: “The serve is crazy. At £1 an ounce it was a relatively decent little side hustle during maternity leave but I felt NeoKare recognized that the cost of living crisis was on, women were desperate and so could lower their price and women would still be pumping because they need the money.’
Lace Scott, from Ballymena in Northern Ireland, relied on free donor milk to feed her daughter Luna, now 19 months old, as she suffered from a breast condition that prevented her from producing enough milk.
But she said it was “unethical” to charge for it.
“When I read about NeoKare’s prices, I was horrified and thought I could never afford it,” she said. “I think they really take advantage of mothers and babies.”
The Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of 30 health organizations including the National Childbirth Trust and the Royal College of Midwives, has previously written to the Department of Health warning of NeoKare’s practices.
Last night it said: “No other body fluids or parts may be sold in the UK and we believe breast milk should be no different.”
dr Sarah Steele, a health researcher at the University of Cambridge, agrees it should be banned.
“Government should be asking serious questions if we want mothers who are struggling to sell valuable calories,” said Dr. Steele. “There’s a difference between donating excess milk that isn’t going to be consumed to the NHS and selling milk that would otherwise go to your own child to help pay the heating bill.”
The research of dr. Steele has also revealed that NeoKare is using “aggressive sales tactics” to market directly to NHS trusts, with sales staff even showing up in hospital neonatal wards to try to sell their products – a practice she described as “worrying” and ” reminiscent” was the way Nestle marketed formula milk in the 1970s.
NeoKare is the sister company of an Indian company called NeoLacta Life Sciences.
The Indian government has twice revoked NeoLacta’s license to sell breast milk after fears it was exploiting poor Indian women as donors.
Companies House documents show the company has only one registered director, 39-year-old Australian citizen Surabh Aggarwal, who resides in India.
NeoKare did not respond to calls from the MoS.
A statement on their website said: “We have been working with the local authority and the Food Standards Agency because lead has been found in a small number of our products. As a precaution, to put public health first, we have all of NeoKare Ltd. manufactured products recalled.’
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11610879/Families-alert-investigation-finds-lead-breast-milk-products-supplied-newborns.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Families on alert after an investigation found lead in breast milk products given to newborns