By April Short
Health/Science Reporter

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently proposed a scandalous new treat: breast milk ice cream.

PETA petitioned the popular ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s to introduce human breast milk as a new creamy base for its desserts. Although Ben and Jerry’s declined PETA’s request, the idea sparked media and Internet attention.

“We thought that was a really interesting idea and something that would probably get people in the U.S. talking,” said Ryan Huling, college campaign coordinator at PETA. “You know, it seems absurd: the idea of people consuming human milk.”

Blogs discussed the question of whether human breast milk is vegan.

“If participants are willing, then yes, breast milk is vegan,” said Eric Deardorff, a philosophy student and founder of the newest UCSC animal rights group, Banana Slugs for Animals. Deardorff, who worked for PETA and considers himself a vegan, said that as long as a participant is given the choice whether or not to donate her milk, it is vegan. “Cows on factory farms are not given a choice whether or not to donate their milk,” Deardorff said.

PETA’s inspiration to endorse breast milk as a food ingredient developed when a Swiss chef at Storchen restaurant introduced breast milk to his menu. Roughly 75 percent of the milk used in soups, stews and sauces at Storchen comes from human donors who are paid in exchange for their milk.

The subject of milk donation is also a topic of discussion across the Web.

“There are too many children with illnesses who need breast milk,” said Pauline Sakamoto, executive director of Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose, and president of Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). “To say we should use human breast milk in ice cream is callous.”

Sakamoto said that PETA has valid ethical concerns.

“It’s true that cow’s milk is not the best for [human infants]. I think even Ben and Jerry’s would tell you that,” Sakamoto said. “But to donate human milk to the Mother’s Milk Bank is to donate a life to someone. [Human breast milk] is not for recreational use.”

HMBANA is a multidisciplinary group of health care providers that work to supply infants in need with donor breast milk.

“Human milk is essentially a human tissue, and to compare it to cow’s milk is not appropriate,” Sakamoto said. “Human milk in the U.S. is very hard to get. Women are providing extra milk from their bodies — it is a very physical and very taxing process.”

Huling offered another perspective.

“The idea expressed that human breast milk is intended for babies is a perfectly valid point,” he said. “That’s one of the points we wanted to bring up in the first place. It is absurd for humans to be drinking milk of other species, but that even beyond that, it’s absurd for humans to be drinking milk past the point of infancy. The same goes for animals in the wild — you don’t see animals drinking milk past infancy.”

Of course, the substitutes for dairy are not limited to breast milk.

“Other alternatives are available — soy milk, for example,” Huling said. “Maybe down the road we will see a company like Ben and Jerry’s offering alternatives.”

Deardorff said he, for one, is willing to try breast milk ice cream.

“If it tasted good, of course I’d eat it,” Deardorff said. “The reason I don’t eat ice cream from dairy cows is that I don’t support taking innocent babies from their mothers. I don’t think any compassionate person would.”