Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Human milk' to hit Chinese market in 2 years

BEIJING - CHINESE consumers will soon be able to buy dairy products that are produced by genetically modified cattle and contain most of the nutrients as in human breast milk.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has given the green light to test production of the human-like milk, which will be available on the Chinese market in two years, said Li Ning, a leading researcher at the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at China Agricultural University.

The milk, which cows produced after researchers tweaked their genetic codes, is rich in lactalbumin, lactoferrin, and lysozume - proteins that abound in human breast milk, said Mr Li. 'Such proteins can be easily absorbed by the human body and can boost the immune system, which is why breastfeeding is always better than using bovine milk and infant formula,' noted Mr Li.

Though not yet a perfect substitute for breast milk, as it lacks some antibodies and a protein that helps boost babies' intelligence, Li said that the 'humanised' milk had great marketing and industrial potential.

"The milk pumped out by our cattle will be a cheap source for such rare proteins, which are precious components hailed by the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and food industries," said Li, adding that the annual sales of lactoferrin are expected to reach US$5 billion (S$6.2 billion) worldwide.

Genetic engineering has been a rising technology studied by the pharmaceutical and biological industries. It is now widely used to mass-produce vaccines and drugs like insulin. Food produced using genetic modification, however, has been met with less public and official recognition. 

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