Home News Feed Cows Genetically Modified To Produce Human Milk?

Cows Genetically Modified To Produce Human Milk?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

From GOOD.is:

Earlier this month, China held an exhibition to showcase major technical achievements during its 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010). Among the wonders on display were photos of a herd of 200 cows that have been genetically modified to produce “human” milk.Precise details of the bioengineering employed to adjust the composition of the milk these 200 cows produce are not available, nor is it clear exactly how closely the GM cow milk will resemble its human analog. According to the announcement in the state-run news outlet, China Daily, Li Ning, director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at China Agricultural University, confirmed that the genetically modified herd’s milk “contains the characteristics of human milk.”

Li added that the cow-human milk “tastes stronger than normal milk” and explained that:

In ancient China, only the emperor and the empress could drink human milk throughout their lives, which was believed to be the height of opulence. Why not make that kind of milk more available for ordinary people?

Interestingly, human milk has low protein density compared with cow’s milk, and many of its health benefits are to be found in so-called “non-nutritional factors” such as anti-microbials, anti-inflammatory substances, hormones, and digestive enzymes. Li is vague on the specifics, but promises that China’s genetically modified cows will allow scientists to mass-produce ingredients “that can help improve the immune systems and the central nervous systems of children.” “Within 10 years,” he added, “people will be able to pick up these human-milk-like products at the supermarket.”

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.

However, this development should be understood in the light of China’s recent scares over melamine-tainted baby milk. The national scandal that followed the sickening of nearly 300,000 infants fed the tainted milk powder prompted an ongoing discussion about the country’s declining breast-feeding rates, which, in turn, has been blamed on everything from aggressive marketing by formula producers, migrant working patterns, and the rise of body image concerns.

Still, in a country where up to 90 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, genetically modifying cows to produce human breast milk seems like an unnecessarily complicated solution to a problem that could instead be tackled through greater support for and awareness of the benefits of breast-feeding itself, not to mention rigorous enforcement of China’s new food safety laws.

If you know like I know… then you know full well that this is going to turn into an attempt to target breastfeeding women. “Don’t worry about feeding your kids formula – give them this!”

There are so many things wrong with this that…. I just… I can’t even.

I spent an entire week discussing genetically modified organisms. I’m also thoroughly aware of what has happened in the past when we tried to create a “master formula” for infants to ingest.

Seriously… if they won’t even let us eat genetically modified meat, then…I’m going to stop here. What are your thoughts?

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Qalil Gigi March 25, 2011 - 11:20 PM

GMO food has got to be the worst thing we could have ever done to ourselves and the environment. Will they also make those cows infertile? Don’t calves need more protein? What will they drink? What does that mean for the beef industry when the cows are released into other cow populations? We are destroying EVERYTHING.

Valarie November 3, 2011 - 11:33 AM

I don’t know how it’s done in China, but here in the US dairy herds and beef herds are kept completely separate. Also, calves are separated from their mothers within a few days to weeks and fed a “milk replacer.” So, almost all the milk from dairy cows goes straight into production at the volumes demanded by society. The way we have bred dairy cows, even without genetic modification, also contributes to a whole host of “modern” ailments for the cows, including a rise in Downer cow syndrome, which is a result of calcium deficiency from producing more milk than the cow’s body can compensate for.
(Vet student in training)

Ren March 26, 2011 - 1:25 AM

Reading about this makes me that much more content to be vegan. There is no way this “milk” could compare to 100% human breast milk.
They should be encouraging women to breast feed their babies. That is what human breast are designed to do.

Shante March 26, 2011 - 10:40 AM

This may sound crazy but I am sooo sure that one of these GMO inventions is going to turn people into zombies kinda like “I Am Legend”. This stuff freaks me out.

Ti March 28, 2011 - 10:10 AM

i’m with you, shante *shudders*

Elita @ Blacktating March 28, 2011 - 11:38 AM

Uh huh, sure. The only thing that cow milk and human milk have in common is that they are both produced by mammals for their young. That’s it. Structurally? Totally different. Cow’s milk is designed to grow a calf into a two ton cow quickly. That’s about it. The ONLY reason we as humans drink cow’s milk is because it is cheap, readily available and provided an easy source of fat and protein back in the day. This is also the reason it’s used for infant formula. It’s cheap and readily available. It’s not close to human milk at all. Same thing with soy formula. Do you think soybeans are meant to grow human brains? No, but they are cheap and plentiful.

Another thing to keep in mind is that cow’s milk is useless for humans at any age, really. You’re not supposed to drink milk past the age of weaning. No other mammal does. That’s why your first set of teeth are called “milk teeth” and that’s why they fall out at around age 5. If you like to drink milk (and I get it, cause I enjoy it myself) then fine, but you don’t NEED it. Remember that all black folks are lactose intolerant. There’s a reason for that people. It’s because humans were never meant to drink milk (especially from another species) past the age of weaning.

Me September 2, 2011 - 8:03 PM

This has to be the creepiest thing I’ve heard in quite a while, especially since I drink cow’s milk without hesitation on a regular basis. Aside from that, I just wanted to correct one minor thing: Elita, while you do raise some interesting points, I’m black & not lactose intolerant. Though I have met quite a few black people who are, and this article sure does make me reconsider how “tolerant” I’ll remain of milk going forward.

Tiana September 3, 2011 - 5:19 AM

Say that about 7892678992 more times!!! I am 1000000000% in support of breastfeeding, because, as Ren said above, that’s the purpose of women having breasts. We do so many things that are outside of the natural order of things because it’s cheap, “easier”, or just because we can. It’s highly annoying. It’s to the point now that you can barely eat anything without worrying about what’s in it. I’m sick of food, for real. I buy almost the exact same food from the same places because I know I can eat it and won’t grow an extra eyelid.

Serenity April 27, 2011 - 3:58 PM

That’s just nasty….

Atiya September 5, 2011 - 8:59 PM

All I can say is “Sick, sad world!” If you think this is weird-check out the latest technology with robots in Nat Geo mag….pretty reminiscent of IRobot with skin, lol(creepy though). As the late great Marvin said…What’s going on?

KalleyC September 13, 2011 - 9:18 AM

There is just something odd about this. It’s like when they (not China in particular, but scientist) were trying to produce human breast milk rice. Wouldn’t it be easier to just promote healthy breastfeeding for infants. I mean like really invest in it.

I’m not too sure about drinking milk as we get older. Sure, I enjoy milk based products like ice cream, and cheese, but for drinking a regular cup of milk…so not me.

The sad thing is, if they pull this off (like they did with GMO vegetables), then I’m not surprised if this is already in “testing.” It’s not like we’ll ever know for sure.

collette January 22, 2012 - 8:07 AM

Omg stop it already. With hormones and genetically modified food, ( we’ve been eating for years….) we have a world full of diabetes, autism, ADD, allergies up the wazoo, Not to mention all of the other illness’ ad diseases on the increase. Can we go back to normal food!!!

DianaLyn February 8, 2012 - 6:08 PM

I had a wrinkled nose reading the wole article. To me genetically modified anything is just wrong, and not something I want to put in my body.

Gretch February 12, 2012 - 8:57 PM

This is absurdity is going to backfire. It’s this kind of thing that’s going to cause consumers to just snap and realize all the madness that’s going on in our food supply. The revolution is coming friends…or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself as I vote at the register.

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