Canadian Human Milk Survey

The Canadian Human Milk Survey (HMS) is an ongoing national survey organized by the Bureau of Chemical Safety in Health Canada's Food Directorate, in support of its mandate to ensure that chemicals are not present in foods at levels that would pose an unacceptable risk to health. The main goal of the HMS is to examine the exposure of Canadian infants to a variety of contaminants, chemicals, nutrients, and immunoprotective constituents in human milk.

The HMS has been run six times since 1967. The seventh installment of the HMS is a part of the Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (MIREC) study. In MIREC, approximately 2,000 women were recruited during their first trimester of pregnancy over a 2 - 3 year enrolment period at 10 sites across Canada. A small volume of human milk was collected according to strict protocols between the 2nd and 10th weeks after delivery for analysis.

The milk samples will be analyzed for a number of contaminants, chemicals, nutrients, and immunoprotective constituents including:

  • heavy metals and trace elements
  • perfluorinated compounds
  • fungal toxins
  • perchlorate
  • flame retardants
  • industrial chemicals and by-products
  • pesticides
  • phthalates and bisphenol A
  • compounds formed during food processing
  • macromineral nutrients
  • natural anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory constituents
  • antioxidant enzymes
  • vitamins
  • fatty acids

The chemical analyses will be performed by Health Canada laboratories in the Bureau of Chemical Safety, Regional Laboratories of the Health Products and Food Branch, and the Bureau of Nutritional Sciences. Some of the collaborators (and areas of expertise) on the Canadian Human Milk Survey include:

  • Bob Dabeka (scientific advisor for HMS; heavy metals and trace elements)
  • Peter Scott and Terry Koerner  (fungal toxins)
  • Zhongwen Wang (perchlorate)
  • Xu-Liang Cao (phthalates and bisphenol A)
  • Adam Becalski (compounds formed during food processing)
  • Kevin Cockell and Steve Brooks (macromineral nutrients)
  • Genevieve Bondy (natural anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory compounds)
  • Dawn Jin (antioxidant enzymes)
  • Nimal Ratnayake (fatty acids)
  • Thea Rawn (perfluorinated compounds and novel flame retardants)
  • Tye Arbuckle (MIREC principal investigator)
  • William Fraser (MIREC principal investigator)

The information generated by the HMS will be used to estimate levels of exposure to chemicals for Canadian infants. The comprehensive information on nutrients and other valuable components in human milk will also provide an opportunity to better understand the benefits of breastfeeding. Overall, the results of this research will strengthen health risk assessments and will support measures to limit the exposure of all Canadians by reducing the release of contaminants into the environment.

Additional Information

For more information, please contact the Bureau of Chemical Safety

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