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Medical Milk Could Do More Harm than Good

Medical Milk Could Do More Harm than Good

AgResearch's plans to develop "medical milk" through modifications to New Zealand's Dairy herds could damage exports and could even increase the risk of disease in people.

The proposals announced to the media suggest 'medical milk' could be on sale within a few years but ignores serious questions about the approach being taken to create new proteins and antibodies in cow's milk destined for human consumption.

The most obvious risk to New Zealand is the rejection of Genetically Modified foods by international markets, and that the proposed modifications to cows will meet with similar public objection.

"New Zealand's Brand image could be seriously damaged by the development of these experimental milks, especially as they could also have negative health effects," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

There are important questions that are not being considered about the wisdom of medicalising every-day foods like milk. The drive for profit is blinding the developers to the medical and market realities that could make the project a dud.

As well as issues of animal health and the suffering that the experiments may involve there is a risk of accidental "mixing" of the milks and mis-labelling. The costs of maintaining complete segregation of the animals and all dairy products are also not being factored in and present exactly the same problems to industry as trying to segregate GE foods.

More concerning is the notion of creating foods with specific aims to treat human disease and blurring the boundary between ordinary food and medicine.

The risk to public health of changing everyday foods by giving them pharmaceutical- like properties is enormous. Just as exposure to antibiotics in animal feed has knock-on effects in the food chain so could active ingredients shift the balance in bacterial populations and even increase the factors causing disease.

"The greatest threat to public health is the drive for profit allowing such issues to be conveniently ignored. Regulatory Authorities are simply not up to managing the system now. To add medical foods like these new milks into the mix is a recipe for disaster," says Mr Carapiet.

Failure of speculative biotechnology projects overseas should be a warning to those pushing the experiments here. New Zealand will be better served if research is focussed on sustainable processes and production that 'works with the grain of nature' and shows respects for the complex systems of diet and environmental factors underlying disease.


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