Regulating Milk. Women and Cows in France and the United States

58 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2016 Last revised: 21 Sep 2018

See all articles by Mathilde Cohen

Mathilde Cohen

University of Connecticut - School of Law

Date Written: March 21, 2015


Animal milk, most commonly cow’s milk, is one of the most heavily regulated commodities in France and the United States. With the increasing popularity of breastfeeding and the possibility of pumping, freezing, and storing breast milk, a cottage industry has emerged for people wishing to buy, sell, or donate milk produced by humans. Yet the legal landscape for human milk remains inchoate, prompting public health officials and medical professionals to call for tighter regulation.

Animal and human milk are typically viewed as two distinct substances, which have little in common beyond a name. In contrast, this Article highlights the analogies between the two liquids as well as the female bodies that produce them. To do so, it draws on historical and comparative perspectives — France and the United States; human milk in the twenty-first century and animal milk in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Similar political forces and cultural norms are at stake in milk regulation then and now, here and there. More precisely, the Article shows that the campaign for increased oversight of breast milk is driven by motivations similar to those which inspired cow’s milk reform in the nineteenth century: economics, sexual control, and scientism. Through this regulatory agenda, the providers of milk — human lactating mothers and animal lactating mothers — are commodified in surprisingly analogous ways.

Keywords: Milk, Breastfeeding, Comparative Law, France, United States, Wet Nurse, Speciesism, Cows, Critical Animal Studies, Ecofeminism, Raw Milk, Pasteurization

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K32, I12

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Mathilde, Regulating Milk. Women and Cows in France and the United States (March 21, 2015). American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 65, 2017, pp. 469-526, Available at SSRN:

Mathilde Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

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