First pigs, then chicken, now: dairy cows. It seems no animals are safe from genetic modification these days. Say hello to GM cattle that produce "human" milk - milk with the same properties as human breast milk - in an attempt to make cows' milk more nutritious.
When parents turn to formula to feed their babies, many worry that this substitute isn't as healthy as the real thing. This is the motivation behind research at the China Agricultural University (funded by a biotechnology corporation) which aims to create cows' milk that contains some of the proteins found in human breast milk, proteins that help boost babies' immune systems and reduces their risk of infections. The scientists have even figured out how to boost the milk fat content by 20% and tinker with the levels of milk solids, such that this new milk is close in composition to human milk.
Hm, that sounds good. Until you realize that China's rules on GM technology aren't exactly strict. Even if you don't believe there are health risks associated with frankenfoods, you would still want them to be rigorously tested, right? Or, imagine this GM milk doesn't meet Canadian or American standards... how would you feel about it being consumed by millions in China and other countries with weaker regulations? I'm not sure this is a clear-cut issue.
Let's consider the cows, too. I'm a little shocked to hear that during two experiments, only 26 of 42 newborn GM calves survived their first few months, with the rest perishing to gastrointestinal disease. I can't be the only person to feel that it's unfair for baby cows to have to suffer and die so that human babies experience fewer infections. I'd feel differently if this new technology was meant to save lives on a large scale in a population where many babies' lives are at risk. But something tells me that's not the target demographic.
Well, those are my thoughts. Your turn: is this a good idea or a bad idea? Would you feed GM dairy milk to your baby?