GM 'human' milk predicted to be on shelf

By Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-22 07:10
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BEIJING - Genetically modified (GM) dairy products that are similar to human milk will appear on the Chinese market in two years, an expert in biotechnology has predicted.

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Li Ning, a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at China Agricultural University, said progress in the field is well under way.

Li said Chinese scientists have successfully created a herd of more than 200 cows that is capable of producing milk that contains the characteristics of human milk.

He said the technology is at the cutting edge worldwide and will ensure "healthy protein contained in human milk is affordable for ordinary consumers".

Photos depicting the GM cows were on display at an exhibition, held between March 7 and 14 in Beijing, that showcased China's major technological achievements during the period of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).

"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," Li said. "Why not make that kind of milk more available for ordinary people?"

Human milk contains two kinds of nutrition that can help improve the immune systems and the central nervous systems of children. The components are not available in milk produced by goats or cows.

Li said the scientific world had not previously found a way to mass-produce those ingredients. The GM milk will be as safe to drink as that of the ordinary cows, he added.

The Ministry of Agriculture issued bio-safety examination certificates for the GM herd in March 2010, giving the scientific team a 22-month period during which the technology can be tested in laboratories.

The ministry will then evaluate the results of the tests before deciding whether to allow the milk to be sold.

"The milk tastes stronger than normal milk," Li said. "Within 10 years, people will be able to pick up these human-milk-like products at the supermarket."

Xue Dayuan, chief expert with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said the government will carry out a series of tests on the transferred gene and the method of transplanting it before the genetically modified cows and their milk are declared safe.

There has been a good deal of opposition to GM technology in the United States and Canada, according to Fang Lifeng, a campaigner for Greenpeace China's food and agriculture project.

Xinhua contributed to this story.