July 30, 2011

One Large Human Breast Milk from GM Cows’ Udders Latte, Coming Right Up? ~ Emily Alex

Metalwork: Mark Bulwinkle, Photo: WonderMike

At first I didn’t believe it. Then I had a cow.

According to some dairy producers in Beijing, “human” is the milk of the future. This past April, scientists at China’s Agricultural University figured out how to circumvent the breast pump; the farm now has 300 transgenic, human milk-producing Holsteins and hopes to be bottling boob juice for commercial sale by 2014 (food safety inspection results permitting).

Indeed, human-milk-via-cow-udders does have all the marks of modernity.

Made in China? Check! Genetically Messed-with. Yep! Factory-farmed, animal tested, brimming with antibiotics? Check, check, and check!

Photo: John Collier Jr.

A soy/almond-drinker myself, I can’t help but be dismayed by this development, which seems a drastic perversion of the simple-by-nature process of mammalian nursing.

In eschewing cow’s milk my main argument has always been, “You don’t see any other animals going around sipping off another species’ teets. Of course you (30-50 million Americans and 75% of the world’s adult population) are lactose intolerant! Cow’s milk is for calves!”

In some respects, the idea of humans actually consuming human milk — though, yeah, pretty darn icky — is somewhat comforting and seemingly appropriate.

But wait…

Acquiring human milk from cow glands does zero to allay the ills of present-day animal husbandry. The genetically modified cows would still, most likely, be kept in narrow stalls and milked with painful vaccuum machinery.  And now we can add to that the misfortunes inherent to reproductive cloning, such as abnormal size at birth; higher rates of infection and cancer; immune system malfunction; and early, sudden and unpredictable death.

So then, what’s the point?

Photo: scribbletaylor

Sampling a paper cup of freshly squeezed breast milk, the workers at the Beijing university’s dairy farm grin and assert that it is “stronger and sweeter” than its bovine counterpart, plus — get this — “better for you because it is genetically modified.” Sounds like a P.S.A. from the makers of Kool Aid...

Nutrient-wise, breast milk is whey better for us than cow’s, containing half the protein, less saturated fats and a higher level of polyunsaturated fats (linolenic acid), which are important for brain development.

First of all, duh.

Secondly, this omega-tending argument is pretty watery; it can easily (ask just about any ol’ vegan) be countered with alternative sources such as tahini, almonds, kale, collard greens, EVOO, and flax, sunflower, hemp and pumpkin seeds — none of which incur animal suffering or accelerate arterial buildup.

Hummus beats breast milk for sure.

Our breast milk will save the world!

Photo: Imran Chaudhr

As one should sort of expect from GM company reps, the interviewees in the above-linked Sky News article make some ambiguous references to the planet’s malnourished masses and suggest that their new solution may just be the solution to, I presume, weak teeth and bones the world over. (Apropos, did you know that the U.S. is the nation with the highest incidence of osteoporosis, while also being the biggest consumer of dairy products?)

The director of the research project, Professor Li Ning, said:

“There are 1.5 billion people in the world who don’t get enough to eat. It’s our duty to develop science and technology, not to hold it back. We need to feed people first, before we consider ideals and convictions.”

Complete male cow excrement, if you ask me.

Unlike GM grains, which have some real practical potential with regard to world hunger, the human milk-producing cows won’t be producing more milk, nor will they be producing cheaper milk.

Don’t get me wrong, I find this here genetic stunt mind-bogglingly impressive and literally in-cred-ible and all that, but I wonder: how exactly will “humanised” cow’s milk honor the researchers’ professed humanitarian mission?

With a cherry on top

Incidentally, while breast milk out of udders is a relatively novel development, human breast milk has already been making quite a ripple in the food community, featured first in “Mommy Milk Cheese” at Klee’s Brasserie this past winter, then at the Icecreamists, a small ice cream parlor in London. After some food safety glitches and a legal imbroglio over its name, the Icecreamist’s flavor — now dubbed “Baby Goo Goo” and made from 75% breast milk — is once again on the parlor’s menu. Its inventor, Matt O’Connor says of the milk (provided by local lactaters at £1.5 an ounce) “it’s beautiful, it’s organic, it’s free-range: totally natural. Good enough for my kids, good enough for our ice cream.” Free-range women, huh?

Okay, I guess it’s not as weird as it gets in terms of stuff you can drink, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. Udderly gross or worth a try?

Read 6 Comments and Reply

Read 6 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490