China Intent On Producing Genetically Modified Cow Milk To Replace Human Breast Milk And Sold At Your Grocery
Scientists have now successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows in a bid to produce a cow milk alternative to human breast milk. The biotech company has high hopes that genetically modified dairy products from herds of similar cows could be sold in supermarkets around the world.
However, their hopes may be short-lived when the executives are forced to meet the resistance against genetically modified (GM) foods. The work is likely to further inflame opposition to GMO and ignite global debates on the safety of cow milk. Critics of the technology and animal welfare groups have reacted angrily to the research, questioning the safety of milk from genetically modified animals and its effect on the cattle's health.
But Professor Ning Li, the scientist who led the research and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University insisted, as all proponents of GM foods, that the milk would be as safe to drink as milk from ordinary dairy cows.
He said: "The milk tastes stronger than normal milk. We aim to commercialize some research in this area in coming three years. For the “human-like milk”, 10 years or maybe more time will be required to finally pour this enhanced milk into the consumer’s cup.”
The researchers used cloning technology to introduce human genes into the DNA of Holstein dairy cows before the genetically modified embryos were implanted into surrogate cows.
Writing in the scientific peer-reviewed journal Public Library of Science One, the researchers said they were able to create cows that produced milk containing a human protein called lysozyme,
Lysozyme is an antimicrobial protein naturally found in large quantities in human breast milk. It helps to protect infants from bacterial infections during their early days of life.
They created cows that produce another protein from human milk called lactoferrin, which helps to boost the numbers of immune cells in babies. A third human milk protein called alpha-lactalbumin was also produced by the cows.
The marketing goal will be to target mothers who have trouble breast feeding and those who wish to offer an substitute over formula with what they claim will be "the same benefits" and human breast milk.
Professor Li and his colleagues, who have been working with the Beijing GenProtein Biotechnology Company, said their work has shown it was possible to "humanise" cows milk.
In all, the scientists said they have produced a herd of around 300 cows that are able to produce human-like milk.
"These are transgenic animals and there is nothing natural about them except their appearance," said midwife and breast feeding specialist Martha Michaels. "Would you want your baby consuming genetically modified milk from a transgenic animal?" she added.
Writing in the journal, Professor Li said: "Our study describes transgenic cattle whose milk offers the similar nutritional benefits as human milk.
The researchers also insist having antimicrobial proteins in the cows milk can also be good for the animals by helping to reduce infections of their udders.
"Antimicrobial proteins may also cause unintended side effects in an infants growing digestive system and it's obvious these scientists are very reluctant to discuss
this fact," said Michaels.
During two experiments by the Chinese researchers, which resulted in 42 transgenic calves being born, just 26 of the animals survived after ten died shortly after birth, most with gastrointestinal disease, and a further six died within six months of birth.
A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals said the organisation was "extremely concerned" about how the GM cows had been produced.
She said: "Offspring of cloned animals often suffer health and welfare problems, so this would be a grave concern.
"Why do we need this milk - what is it giving us that we haven't already got."
Helen Wallace, director of biotechnology monitoring group GeneWatch UK, said: "We have major concerns about this research to genetically modify cows with human genes.
"There are major welfare issues with genetically modified animals as you get high numbers of still births.
"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."
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.