Scientists Create Genetically Modified Cows to Produce “Human” Milk

Published on April 9th, 2011 | by

Last week, I was stunned to read an article in The Telegraph claiming scientists in China “created genetically modified cattle that produce ‘human’ milk in a bid to make cows’ milk more nutritious.” Hold on. Did I read that correctly? Unfortunately… yes.

According to the piece, the scientists successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk. Human milk contains key nutrients such as the human proteins lysozyme, an antimicrobial protein, which helps to protect infants from bacterial infections during their early days of life and lactoferrin, which helps to boost the numbers of immune cells in babies. These transgenic cows also produced a third human milk protein called alpha-lactalbumin.

How could genetically modified milk possibly be safe?

The Telegraph reported that Professor Ning Li, the scientist who led the research, “insisted that the GM milk would be as safe to drink as milk from ordinary dairy cows.”

Okay… but further down the article, I read:

“However, 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.”

I refuse to believe that scientifically altering nature in this way is good for us, the animals or the planet. So here’s a reasonable recommendation let’s teach new mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding and get rid of our cultural opinion that breastfeeding is unnatural or obscene. Why spend millions of dollars to create “human” milk when it already exists?

Sure, the major biotechnology company backing the GM milk research wouldn’t make money if we embraced breastfeeding, but is gambling with the health of our children worth it?

Image credit: macieklew via Flickr under a CC license.


About the Author

With more than 10 years experience working for a major Fortune 500 company, Cindy specializes in socially and environmentally responsible business strategies. She has developed successful corporate communications and stakeholder engagement strategies on contentious sustainability issues and has worked with a number of NGOs and activist organizations on how to effectively partner with multinational companies. Cindy frequently writes about topics ranging from what is corporate social responsibility to sustainable supply chain and measuring a company's environmental impact. She believes business plays a vital role in the health of our communities and our planet.