Moo-ve Over Moms: Genetically Modified Cows to Make “Human-Like” Milk
Written by Robyn O’Brien
“… your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” — Dr. Ian Malcolm (from Jurassic Park)
Scientists claim to have successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk.
Apparently, 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. “We aim to commercialize some research in this area in coming three years…for the “human-like milk”, say the researchers.
Holy cow, you say, right? And all for the commercialization of a product that moms have been engineering for years.
Human milk contains the ‘just right’ proportions of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins for an infant’s optimal growth and development. But since there isn’t an open market for breast milk, scientists have humanized bovine milk from cows in order to create that product.
“The milk tastes stronger than normal milk,” said Professor Ning Li, lead research author and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University
According to the Telegraph, a British newspaper reporting on the subject:
“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.
In all, the scientists said they have produced a herd of around 300 cows that are able to produce human-like milk. The transgenic animals are physically (emphasis added) identical to ordinary cows.”
It all sounds pretty harmless, right? (Except, of course, if you stop for a moment to consider the fact that the genes of someone that you’ve never met have been patented, licensed and structured into a royalty agreement before being genetically engineered into dairy cows ).
According to the article, with the insertion of human genes into animals, scientists have created these transgenic (cross-species) dairy cows.
But here is where things get interesting. According to the researchers,:
“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.”
For those that don’t have a calculator on hand, the death by gastrointestinal disease that apparently resulted from the transgenic modification led to 16 out of the 42 cows dying in the first 6 months of birth…or a 38% death rate.
In the face of the evidence, “the researchers accept that the cloning technology used in genetic modification can affect the development and survival of cloned animals, although the reason why is not well understood.”
Although the first genetically engineered products were introduced in the United States just over 15 years ago, global consensus is that these products have not yet been proven safe. For this reason, and due to the lack of clinical trials that have proven their safety, governments around the world have either not allowed genetically modified products and ingredients into their food supply or have insisted on their labeling so that consumers can make an informed choice.
In the U.S., we took a different approach. Based on a conceptual tool introduced by the biotech industry in 1991 called “substantial equivalence”, the FDA allowed the widespread introduction of genetically engineered products into our food supply unlabeled despite concerns that these foods had not yet been proven safe and might introduce new allergens into the food supply.
And while correlation is not causation, the recent 265% increase in hospitalization’s related to food allergic reactions recently documented by the Centers for Disease Control might suggest that the U.S. is a little bit late to this party in terms of the labeling of these genetically engineered proteins and the concerns over allergenicity that were cited by Edward Brandt in a 2002 Biotechnology Subcommittee Meeting of the FDA.
As governments around the world continue to exercise precaution and insist on the labeling of these genetically engineered products if/when used in the food supply, perhaps it is time for the FDA to do the same and adopt the precautionary principal being used by other developed countries and call on American food manufacturers to also label them.
Because while these cloned cows might still be a few years away from commercialization, The Money Times reports that the FDA has cleared for approval the first genetically modified animal for entry into the U.S. food supply this year, a fish that has been engineered to double its weight in half the time. With the expected introduction of this genetically modfied fish into the American food supply, the FDA will be establishing a precedent for the introduction of future products from transgenic and genetically engineered animals.
If the FDA fails to pause and exercise the same level of precaution that governments around the world are already exercising and insist on the labeling of these novel foods, any risks and costs associated with the introduction of these genetically engineered products will continue to be externalized onto the health of the American public without our informed consent.
And while parents are genetically hardwired to protect the health of their children, to expect them to do so without the labeling of these genetically engineered products in the United States is unprecedented and irresponsible.
Because while our children may only represent 30% of the population, they represent 100% of our future. It’s time that the FDA values their lives accordingly.
Learn what you can do at www.gmoawareness.org