People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggests world-famous Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream should tap nursing moms, rather than cows, for the milk used in its ice cream.
PETA said that if the ice cream maker begins using breast milk in its products instead of cow's milk, it would reduce the suffering of cows and calves and give ice cream lovers a healthier product.
The idea got a cool reception Thursday from Ben & Jerry's officials, the company's customers and La Leche League International, the world's oldest breast-feeding support organization, which promotes the practice -- for babies, anyway.
Ashley Byrne, a campaign coordinator for PETA, acknowledged the implausibility of substituting breast milk for cow's milk but said it was no stranger than humans consuming the milk of another species.
"We're aware this idea is somewhat absurd, and that putting it into practice is a stretch. At the time same, it's pretty absurd for us to be drinking the milk of cows," she said.
PETA wrote a letter to company founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield this week, saying cow's milk is hazardous and that milking them is cruel.
"If Ben and Jerry's replaced the cow's milk in its ice cream with breast milk, your customers -- and cows -- would reap the benefits," wrote Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of the advocacy group.
Ben & Jerry's, which gets its milk exclusively from Vermont cows, won't say how much milk it uses or how much ice cream it sells.
As a standardized product under federal regulations, ice cream must be made with milk from healthy cows. Ice cream made from goat's milk, for example, would have to be labeled as such.
To Ben & Jerry's, the idea of using breast milk is a non-starter.
"We applaud PETA's novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother's milk is best used for her child," spokesman Sean Greenwood said in an e-mail.
Cow's milk and mother's milk aren't interchangeable, said La Leche spokeswoman Jane Crouse, who says breast milk is a dynamic substance that's different with each woman and each child and might have difficulty being processed into ice cream.
Then there's the question of who would provide the milk, and whether they'd be paid.
"Some women feel compelled to donate milk to a milk bank for adopted babies, or for someone who's ill or unable to breast feed. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence about sisters who nurse each others' babies. There's a population of women very willing to share their milk. Whether there's enough to do it for a commercial entity, who can say?" she said.
At the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury, consumers gave a collective "ewww" to the idea Thursday.
"It's kind of creepy," said Jeff Waugh, 42, of Dayton, Ohio.
"I think it's a little nutty," said the Rev. Roger Wooton, 83, of Malden, Mass., finishing up a cup of Heath Bar Crunch.
"How would they get all that milk?" said his wife, Jane Wooton, 77.
Jen Wahlbrink, 34, of Phoenix, who breast-fed her son, Cameron, now 11 months, said she wouldn't touch ice cream made from mother's milk. She remembers her nursing days -- and not that fondly.
"The [breast] pumps just weren't that much fun," she said.