Chinese biotech researchers hope consumers will develop a taste for their GM-altered bovine milk.
Attitudes towards public breastfeeding in Israel are more relaxed, in general, than in the USA where the sight of mom’s nursing babies is often met with squeamishness (or worse) as various factions debate the utilitarian vs. pleasure functions of the female bosom. Never mind the brouhaha over breast milk vs. formula, something covered in length by Greenprophet.com writers. Now, Chinese researchers have introduced a third teat into the equation: they’ve genetically engineered cows to produce ‘humanized’ milk. This makes Lady Gaga’s ice cream from human milk seem positively tasteful in comparison.
Professor Ning Li, lead scientist and director of the State Key Laboratories for Agro-Biotechnology at the China Agricultural University, insisted that the genetically modified milk would be as safe to drink as milk from ordinary dairy cows. Why mess with mother’s milk in China to begin with (a country that tainted baby formula not so long ago)? The laws governing GMO research in China are less stringent, according to sources, than those in Europe.
Li and his colleagues, who have been working with the GenProtein Biotechnology Company in Beijing, said their work had shown it was possible to ‘humanize’ cow’s milk. They said they had produced a herd of about 200 cows “transgenic” animals that were physically identical to ordinary cows with one exception.
“Our study describes transgenic cattle whose milk offers similar nutritional benefits as human milk,” said Li. “The modified bovine milk is a possible substitute for human milk. It fulfilled the conception of humanizing the bovine milk,” with the intent of providing an alternative to human breast milk and formula milk for babies.
Human milk contains less protein, making it easier for babies to digest, and high quantities of nutrients that can help to boost the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of infections.
Helen Wallace, the director of GeneWatch UK, a biotechnology-monitoring group, has her concerns about this milky (as in hazy) business: “There is a question about whether milk from these cows is going to be safe from humans and it is really hard to tell that unless you do large clinical trials like you would a drug, so there will be uncertainty about whether it could be harmful to some people. Ethically there are issues about mass producing animals in this way.”
Environmentalists and sexual health experts point to the inconvenient truths about GM animals, who have higher numbers of still born fetuses and birth defects, never mind the concerns that GMO foods may be shrinking sexual health in a womb near you.
Some bloggers are responding with humor and vivid imaginations. “The ingenuity involved in shifting the nutrient profile of milk produced by mammals is pretty remarkable—it can now only be a matter of time before we bypass the Nestlé factory altogether and squeeze chocolate-yumberry flavor cow’s milk with brain-boosting Omega 3 direct from our pet goat’s udders.” In a region where sheep, goat and cattle farming are big agribusiness, that image is udderly creepy. Our inner eco-brats are wondering if root-beer floats are an option.
But of course the biggest question is, what’s wrong with human milk from humans?