Genetically Manipulated Food News

7 September 1997

Table of Contents

New Types of GE Milk
Unreported Mad Cow Disease in Europe
Engineered Farm Animals
Monsanto Tackles Sceptics

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Scientists Foresee Market for New Types of Milk

TAHOE CITY, CA - SACRAMENTO BEE: You're familiar with whole milk, low-fat milk, skim milk, probably even lactose-free milk and rice milk. Now imagine humanized cow's milk, milk that makes more cheese and milk that produces ingredients for drugs.

Scientists at the University of California at Davis, and at private companies around the world, have been. Using ever-evolving techniques in manipulating animal genes, researchers are experimenting with mice, goats, rabbits and cows to change the properties of milk for human food and as raw materials for pharmaceuticals.

Some of the work was detailed Tuesday as part of an international conference, "Transgenic Animals in Agriculture," organized by UC Davis.

Conference chairman James D. Murray described studies that potentially would affect the general public -- ending up in consumers' bellies -- more than any other. Using genetically altered mice, Murray and his Davis colleagues have generated two new types of milk: One that contains a protein found in human milk that kills bacteria, thereby preventing gastrointestinal infections in infants, and one that contains more of a cow protein that is used to make cheese.

But would people drink it or eat it?

After all, approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993 of using BST, a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, in dairy cows stirred a public furor. Today, milk from BST-injected cows is on grocery shelves. No one knows how much is on the market, though, because there is no requirement for labeling. A few dairy companies promote their milk as being BST-free.

Patricia Olson, director of veterinary affairs and studies for the American Humane Association, said her organization favors labeling for food products derived from genetically changed animals. "Let me as a consumer decide," said Olson, who is attending the conference.

Milk elicits an emotional reaction in American consumers, she added. "Milk is for children to drink. It's considered white gold. Don't mess with milk," she said.

Murray, of course, looks upon it differently. Asked about possible labeling rules for the milk he envisions, the professor of animal science exhibits the optimism of an inventor who trusts that he is offering improvements for society.

"I think probably the answer is, when you are adding things that are naturally occurring in milk, anyway, it won't make much difference," he said. "I don't think that would require labeling any more than BST-derived milk."

And he expressed hope that cow's milk that is more like human milk would be in greater demand than the garden variety. The substance in question is lysozyme, a protein found in human milk in concentrations more than 3,000 times that found naturally in cow's milk.

Humanizing cow's milk, Murray said, "Hopefully ... means people would be more apt to drink it."

At this point, the discussion is academic. The UC Davis Transgenic Milk Group has studied altered milk only in mice. Studies on dairy cows must follow if the research is to advance. And that requires money. A lot of money.

According to researchers, $250,000 would be a low price for a large transgenic animal -- an animal with one or more foreign genes or existing genes that have been suppressed or removed. The cost could be double that for a cow. A transgenic mouse, by contrast, is only a few thousand dollars, Murray said.

Trying to build a case for the work, his research team has calculated the potential economic worth of creating cows whose milk yields more cheese. Assuming cows responded to genetic manipulation in the same way that the mice did, cheese production could rise by 14 to 26 percent, Murray said. For the California industry alone, he said, that's worth between $260 million and $500 million a year.

Other researchers Tuesday described experiments aimed at creating animals that generate milk containing proteins for use in human drugs. Although producing large transgenic mammals is extraordinarily expensive and inefficient -- typically injecting thousands of embryos results in only a few live animals that exhibit the foreign gene -- it's considered a worthwhile investment risk.

Alan Colman, research director of PPL Therapeutics Inc., a company with laboratories in Scotland and Virginia and a farm in New Zealand, said some of the pharmaceuticals his company is trying to produce are worth between $100 million to $600 million a year in sales.

BSE cases in Europe go unreported

September 2, 1997 THE UK Government's long-held suspicion that European countries have underestimated the scale of BSE infection in their cattle herds was backed by an independent report released this week.

The report, published by respected British, Dutch and German scientists, found that mainland European Union countries had only reported one-sixth of their estimated BSE cases.

More than 55,400 cattle were exported from Britain to other EU countries for breeding between 1985 and 1989, until exports were halted to curb the spread of the disease, the report said.

If these cattle had remained in the UK, an estimated 1,642 of them would have been likely to have contracted BSE, the vets are said to have concluded. Yet European countries have only admitted to a total of 285 cases.

The Freaks of the Farmyard

by Colin Tudge, Research Fellow of the Centre for Philosophy at the London School of Economics.

LONDON TIMES:, September 3, 1997

Millions of farm animals suffer because of inhumane breeding policies to produce cheap food. Colin Tudge reports.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger of the cattle world was on parade this week: a Belgian Blue bull; a caricature of muscle more Incredible Hulk than Michelangelo, weighing three-quarters of a tonne and with a fifth more beef on him than is normal. Typically, it was brought into the world by caesarean section.

Geneticists announced that they had identified the particular mutant gene that underpins its muscularity and, as they grow more skilled in genetic engineering, they will doubtless transfer it to other breeds.

Meat should become cheaper yet again - and farming yet more cruel. So where and when will we draw the line?

The muscles on the new Belgian Blue are hardly functional. They are not designed for movement; they are merely sacs of flesh. If children were afflicted with a mutation such as this, it would be seen as a genetic disease and a charity would be founded to root it out, just as there are charities for cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.

The wild ancestor of Europe's cattle, the auroch, is extinct, but there are plenty of other wild cattle around which show that even the biggest are as lithe as light-heavyweight boxers. The gaur of India is two metres tall and can leap a fence of its own height almost from a standing jump. The fighting bulls of Spain, albeit domestic and small by the standards of the wild, retain the natural agility of their ancestors. But I have seen Belgian Blues, and other such pitiable beasts, at agricultural shows and they can scarcely walk. They shuffle round the show-ring, trailing their feet. To be sure, no farmer wants a bull that can leap like a stag, but neither should he breed cripples.

Such hugeness can be attained by several physiological routes. Some mutant genes simply cause certain muscles to duplicate: so-called " double-muscling" as seen, for example, in some Charolais cattle.

Such a deformity is as grotesque in its way as two heads would be, or six legs, even though it is evident only to those versed in anatomy.

Other genes change the relative rates of growth of body tissues. In young mammals, in general, the bones develop first - which is why foals seem all legs and puppies are all knees. The muscles develop next, so that adolescents of all species tend to be skinny but agile. Fat is laid down last of all, so that mature beasts - and people - "fill out". But to the farmer, muscle is meat and fat is succulence or "finish", while bones are a dead loss. So animals bred to become muscle-bound are obese even before they have the bones to support their flesh. For this reason, modern turkeys can hardly stand, and poultry handlers often break the bones of chickens just by lifting them from the cages. When did you last see an unbroken chicken wishbone? Overweight, feeble-boned pigs that should stand on tip-toes slump on to their hocks, while hulking Belgian Blues can scarcely walk.



Monsanto Tackles a Sceptical Public

By Stephanie Bentley

Marketing Week September 4, 1997

Using advertising to reassure a worried consumer is one thing. Planting fears that were never there in the first place is another.

This is the dilemma facing Monsanto, the US manufacturer of genetically modified (GM) soya beans, which has been accused by furious environmentalists of infiltrating our food with its unholy beans.

Last week Marketing Week exclusively revealed that Monsanto had appointed ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty to run a possible advocacy campaign. The move follows a spate of critical press reports and a number of publicity stunts by green activists who oppose its methods.

Monsanto's scientists have engineered a soya plant which is resistant to one of its own herbicides, called Roundup, which means farmers can spray their fields and kill all the weeds without damaging the soya crop. Soya is found in one form or another in about 60 per cent of all the food on supermarket shelves bread, cakes, baby foods, chocolate, soups and so on.

Whether genetically modified foods are a good thing or not has yet to be proved. But the US Government's Food & Drink Administration has approved genetically modified soya as safe and nutritious, and this is not disputed by UK retailers. But they have avoided taking a stance on the perceived benefits or risks associated with GM foods, had lobbied hard for meaningful product labelling, so consumers can decide if they want to eat food which contains it.

Yet last summer, the US agribusiness effectively steamrollered the retailers and aggressively forced through the first harvest containing two per cent of GM soya. From the beginning, Monsanto has insisted it is physically impossible to separate growth and distribution of the engineered soya (expected to be about 15 per cent of this year's harvest) from the conventional crop. Now consumers have no way of knowing which products on the supermarket shelves contain traces of the soya and which don't.

Rupert Hodges of the British Retail Consortium says: "There is a feeling that the US agribusiness could have handled it better with the European retailers." He says the best hope for the anti-GM lobby is that the European Commission is preparing to introduce labelling regulations which say products "may contain" GM food a vague compromise which will not please the retailers.

The resulting anger at Monsanto's seemingly arrogant attitude from an unusual alliance of retailers, consumer groups and lobbyists such as Greenpeace, spilled over into a number of negative press articles and is one reason why Monsanto has turned to an advertising agency for help.

Tom McDermott, head of European public relations for Monsanto, who is leading the project, says:

"The large amount of news coverage has created the need for more information. The average consumer has not made his or her mind up about biotechnology.

Nobody has ever tried to talk to the public about biotechnology before. It's not like trying to sell a new washing powder. We don't have the history. We don't have the experience."

Richard Wolfson, PhD, Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food

Natural Law Party, 500 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2, Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546, email:

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