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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 22:27 GMT
'Human' GM cow milk plans denied

PPL say their cows only produce medical products

A UK biotechnology company has denied reports that it plans to produce commercial baby formula milk from genetically-modified cows.

PPL Therapeutics denied the comments attributed to its senior researcher David Ayres at its US subsidiary on a documentary broadcast on Wednesday.

Mr Ayres told the Channel 4 programme the company had a 20-strong herd of cows whose milk contained a protein component of human milk.

Bottle fed infants miss out on antibodies from the mother
However, PPL's corporate headquarters in Edinburgh has issued a statement saying it had no more than three cows producing the protein, human alpha-lactalbumin, and it was intended only as a dietary supplement for premature babies who could not be breast-fed.

A purified version of the protein would be a medical product and not a consumer item, and would require clinical trials, PPL said.

The statement added: "While it is, at least in theory, possible to make many genetic modifications to produce a cow which produces milk similar to human milk, PPL does not have, and never has had, plans to do this."

"Breast is best" charities had voiced their concern over the plans.

GM baby formula milk could help those babies who are currently allergic to the animal proteins in cows' milk.

Important antibodies

But there are many ingredients of human breast milk which are believed to make it superior to cows' milk - not simply the proteins involved.

In addition, breast milk contains antibodies from the mother to help the development of the baby's immune system.

Belinda Phipps, of the National Childbirth Trust, said: "Human breast milk has evolved over thousands of years to meet the particular needs of human babies.

"All mammals have milk which is different and designed to meet their babies' requirements.

"The idea of breeding a GM cow to produce a hybrid GM milk may appeal to scientists and manufacturers, but parents want their babies to have a safe and healthy start to life.

"Public reaction is not likely to be positive."

And Pattie Rundall, policy director of Baby Milk Action, said: "Milk from a cow is never going to be the same as breast milk.

"The brilliant thing about real breast milk is that it's full of antibodies from the mother which protect the baby against diseases and infection. It's a cocktail that's absolutely irreplaceable."

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