16 June 2014

Novel Food

The Independent features an item on emerging regulation of placentophagy, ie the ingestion of the human placenta in the form of pills and raw/processed shakes.
[A] shock ruling last week has put the centuries-old tradition under threat, after the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) stepped in to classify placenta as a "novel food". Lawyers said the move undermined women's rights to decide what to do with their bodies.
The UK Food Standards Agency [FSA] has granted a one-month window, until 11 July, for anyone unhappy with the ruling to prove that human placenta is not a so-called novel food. 
Ingestion of the placenta supposedly provides an energy boost, restores iron levels, and help breast-milk production.

The FSA regulatory window supposedly allows
anyone unhappy with the ruling to prove that human placenta is not a so-called novel food. This requires evidence that EU women were eating their placentas before 15 May 1997, the date the European Commission introduced novel food legislation to stop the sale of products derived from GM crops. ...
It means that from mid-July, anyone offering placenta encapsulation services will be at "risk of prosecution or unlawful marketing of novel food", said Elizabeth Prochaska, a barrister specialising in women's rights for the charity Birthrights.
The ruling threatens the future for 102 members of the Independent Placenta Encapsulation Network (Ipen), a grassroots group of midwives and doulas, or labour coaches, set up three years ago to tap into the trend for eating placenta. Ipen practitioners, who normally work from their own homes, charge £150 for capsules and £25 to make a placenta smoothie.
The FSA indicates that
Following discussion with our counterparts in the other EU member states, we are currently of the view that foods containing human placenta are novel and are therefore regulated under Council Regulation (EC) 258/97 on novel foods and food ingredients.
Under Regulation 258/97, a novel food or ingredient is defined as one that was not consumed to a significant degree in the European Community before 15 May 1997. Novel foods and food ingredients may only be marketed if they have been evaluated and authorised under the procedures defined in the regulation. Human placenta and products derived from human placenta have not been authorised under this regulation.
The Agency is not aware of any evidence for a history of consumption of such products anywhere in the EU before May 1997 and we are therefore minded to view them to be novel foods, which cannot legally be sold until they have been formally authorised. As such, any operator who wishes to market foods containing human placenta in the EU will need to apply for an authorisation under Regulation (EC) 258/97. Such an authorisation would require the submission of a dossier to one of the 28 EU Member States, demonstrating that the ingredient (a) does not present a risk to the consumer; (b) does not mislead the consumer; and (c) is not nutritionally disadvantageous compared with other foods that it might replace in the diet.
The Independent article features the usual rights discourse. One  Ipen service provider says a blanket ban would be wrong because placentas were not being sold as food. "We're just processing a woman's own placenta."
Tanya Hempenstall, 40, from south London, had her placenta dried and made into pills after the birth of her second son, Ryan, which involved a Caesarean section and the loss of 1.5 litres of blood. She said: "My recovery was so quick... [the placenta] is something that's come out of my body, so I should be responsible for the effects it has on me."
Prochaska is quoted as commenting
It's strange to classify something that's part of a woman's physiology as a novel food. Legally it's not very clear cut.
As an Australian law academic I would, respectfully, disagree: human blood (or the equivalent of succulent pork loin and lamb's fry & bacon) is not a conventional food, albeit there is some history of placentophagy. Body parts are perhaps best left to Armin Meiwe.

The Independent concludes
Janet Fyle, a policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, said: "Some women who've had post-natal depression find it makes a difference." She added: "Whatever women do in their own home is their business."
To a point, Lord Copper .

A 2013 LA Weekly article title 'Placenta: It's What's for Dinner' features the claim by one enthusiastic 'placenta encapsulator' that "Your own body made it, it's just for you ... No one could prescribe anything more perfect than what your body has made for you".

Anthropologists and health researchers appear to have a less romantic approach. 'Attitudes toward placentophagy: a brief report' by Cremers and Low in (2014) 35(2) Health Care Women Int 113-119 for example comments that
Placentophagy is the consumption of the placenta after birth. For the present study, an online survey explored knowledge and attitudes toward the practice. Participants (N = 216, 78.7% female, 19.9% male) completed Internet-based surveys on placentophagy. A majority (66%) had heard about placentophagy, and of these, 23.1% had learned about the practice through the media. A small number of participants (3.3%) had eaten human placental tissue. Male and female respondents did not differ in willingness to eat placenta (χ (2)(2) = 1.60, p = .45). Contrary to popular belief, placentophagy appears to be rare in human history and across cultures. Future research should explore changing attitudes toward placentophagy across cultures.
'In search of human placentophagy: a cross-cultural survey of human placenta consumption, disposal practices, and cultural beliefs' by Young and Benyshek in (2010) 49(6) Ecology of Food and Nutrition 467-84 comments
Maternal placentophagy, the consumption of the placenta or "afterbirth" by the mother following parturition, is an ubiquitous behavior among eutherian mammals, including non-human primates. Here we report on a cross-cultural survey of 179 human societies regarding the consumption, treatment, and disposal of human placenta, in addition to accompanying cultural beliefs and perceptions about the organ. The conspicuous absence of cultural traditions associated with maternal placentophagy in the cross-cultural ethnographic record raises interesting questions relative to its ubiquitous presence among nearly all other mammals, and the reasons for its absence (or extreme rarity) among prehistoric/historic and contemporary human cultures.
'Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated with Placenta Consumption' by Selander, Cantor, Young & Benyshek in (2013) 52(2) Ecology of Food and Nutrition 93-115 notes
Maternal placentophagy, although widespread among mammals, is conspicuously absent among humans cross-culturally. Recently, however, advocates for the practice have claimed it provides human postpartum benefits. Despite increasing awareness about placentophagy, no systematic research has investigated the motivations or perceived effects of practitioners. We surveyed 189 females who had ingested their placenta and found the majority of these women reported perceived positive benefits and indicated they would engage in placentophagy again after subsequent births. Further research is necessary to determine if the described benefits extend beyond those of placebo effects, or are skewed by the nature of the studied sample.