Chinese Researchers Genetically Modify Cows to Produce “Human” Milk
Chinese researchers have utilized cloning technology to successfully introduce human genes into hundreds of dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk, the Telegraph reports. The scientists who accomplished this believe genetically modified (GM) milk could be an alternative to human breast milk and baby formula, but critics of genetically modified foods and animal welfare advocates are incensed by the creation of “Franken-cows.”
The project was led by Professor Ning Li of China Agriculture University. He insists that the GM milk is as safe to drink as milk from normal cows. Human genes were inserted in the DNA of Holstein dairy cows, then the modified embryos were implanted into surrogate cows. Their offspring contained lysozyme, an anti-bacterial protein found in human breast milk that protects infants from infection during their first days of life. The researchers also created cattle containing lactoferrin, an immune system booster for babies that is found in human milk. Fat content was raised by about 20% as well, and the level of milk solids was altered to make the final product as close to human milk as possible. In all, some 300 GM cattle were produced.
Professor Li told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that the “human-like milk” has “much higher nutritional content” than ordinary dairy milk. “Human milk contains the ‘just right’ proportions of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins for an infant’s optimal growth and development,” he said.
The only problem is, Li’s milk is not human milk. And there are several glaring problems with his experiment. “Offspring of cloned animals often suffer health and welfare problems, so this would be a grave concern,” a spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals told the Telegraph. Indeed, of the 42 transgenic calves born during the Chinese experiment, 10 died shortly after birth, most with gastrointestinal disease, and another 6 died within 6 months of birth. Scientists readily admit that cloned animals suffer from developmental problems and usually have shorter lifespans than normal animals.
There is also the issue of food safety and consumer perception. There are many known dangers of GM foods and infinitely more unknown hazards. And while Americans are more likely to accept GM foods, European consumers vehemently object to them. Many supermarkets won’t carry them, and there are laws in place that require GM foods to be clearly labeled. No such laws exist in the United States.
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