Daisy, the genetically modified (GM) cow cloned by New Zealand researchers, produces milk without an allergy-causing protein called BLG. This article speculates on the effect of bringing milk and meat from such animals into the food chain.
In 1996, Dolly the sheep was born. She was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, a Scottish creation of science “born” to three mothers (one that provided the egg, the other the DNA, and a third that carried the cloned embryo until birth).
The cloning process itself is described as “inefficient” to this day, as most embryos develop abnormally and do not survive (Dolly was reportedly the only lamb to survive into adulthood out of 277 attempts).
But that didn’t stop New Zealand researchers from using the very same process to clone a genetically modified (GM) cow, named Daisy, that produces milk without an allergy-associated protein… milk that they are, presumably, hoping will one day grace breakfast tables across the United States and world.
Would You Drink GM Milk from a Cloned Cow?
Daisy’s milk was genetically engineered so it would not produce a whey protein in milk called beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), which is a common cause of milk allergy. The Guardian reported:1
“To make Daisy, scientists took a cow skin cell and genetically modified it to produce molecules that block the manufacture of BLG protein. The nucleus of this cell was then transferred into a cow egg that had its own nucleus removed… The reconstituted egg was grown in the lab until it formed what is called a blastocyst, a ball of around 100 cells, and then transplanted into the womb of a foster cow.
The cloning technique is not efficient. Of around 100 blastocysts the scientists implanted into cows, more than half of the pregnancies failed early on, and only one live calf, Daisy, was born.”
Already, unexpected results have cropped up. For one, while the genetic modification did reduce levels of BLG protein in the milk to undetectable levels, it more than doubled concentrations of caseins, other hard-to-digest milk proteins that are also linked to allergy. Daisy was also born without a tail, a mysterious defect that researchers believe is most likely related to the cloning process.
“Daisy was also mysteriously born without a tail — which, along with being the canary in the mine that she could have other, yet-unnoticed genetic mutations, is just plain creepy… just because we are able to do carry out a scientific feat doesn’t mean we should do so haphazardly. If you’re allergic to BLG, couldn’t you just drink one of the amazing and delicious non-dairy milks available… ?” wrote Jenna Blumenfeld for the New Hope 360 Blog.2
Is Milk (or Meat) From Cloned Animals Really the Same?
When animals are exposed to foreign DNA or created in a lab using experimental technologies, literally anything can happen. This became clear when Daisy was unexpectedly born without a tail (and who knows what else might be amiss that hasn’t yet been uncovered). Also mysterious, Dolly the sheep was cloned from a 6-year-old sheep, and she died at 6 years old, leading some to believe she had been genetically programmed to have a life expectancy of only six years (when sheep ordinarily live double that).
So cloned animals have some obvious, and some certainly not-so-obvious, differences from natural animals, which makes the idea that the milk or meat from these animals would be the same as that from natural sources a long shot.
Take, for instance, milk from cows treated with a synthetic, genetically engineered growth hormone called rBGH. The synthetic rBGH milk differs from natural milk nutritionally, pharmacologically, immunologically, and hormonally; along with causing health problems in the cows, it is linked to cancer in humans.
You might be surprised to learn that in 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a formal recommendation to allow milk and meat from cloned animals on grocery store shelves, without labels indicating them as such. Their most recent recommendation also gives the green light to cloned animals being used for food. They reported:3
“Based on a final risk assessment, a report written by FDA scientists and issued in January 2008, FDA has concluded that meat and milk from cow, pig, and goat clones and the offspring of any animal clones are as safe as food we eat every day.”
If you eat beef from conventional sources, there’s a possibility you’ve already eaten this type of food, as some ranchers admit cloned cattle have made it into the food chain and, quite possibly, onto your dinner table. Even Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack couldn’t say for sure whether cloned meat was already on the market when asked whether Americans are eating unlabeled clones right now.4
Other GM Animals Already in the Works
In 2009, the FDA approved the first drug produced by livestock that had been bioengineered to express a human gene. In that case, the protein was extracted from the milk of genetically engineered (GE) goats.
Earlier this year, researchers introduced DNA coding for the malaria parasite into the gene regions within the goat genome linked to milk production. The DNA is supposed to “switch on” only in the mammary gland when the goat produces milk. Current experiments being conducted by researchers from Texas A&M are geared toward producing an “edible” malaria vaccine, with the ultimate goal being that children drinking the milk will become vaccinated in the process.
As we’ve seen in the past with genetically modified plants, genetically engineered vaccine-producing animals might enter the food supply unexpectedly — exposing unintended recipients to the vaccine. Or the animals might escape and breed with others, passing these bioengineered genes on with unpredictable consequences. What does ingesting the DNA from the malaria parasite in your milk cause? Or what might be the consequences of drinking milk from a cloned cow, engineered to contain lower amounts of a certain allergy-associated protein? No one knows.