A paper by scientists at China Agricultural University published in March 2011 in PLOS One details a study on transgenic cows that have been modified to express some compounds found in human breast-milk in their milk. The researchers claim the milk contains lysozyme (an antimicrobial protein), lactoferrin (a protein involved with the immune system) and alpha-lactalbumin. The researchers claim that this milk would be a suitable substitute for human breast milk, but do not cite any studies or data to directly support this claim.
The reporting on this in the UK press is textbook bad science. Writing in April, the Telegraph‘s science reporter Richard Gray describes the cows as “physically identical” to non-transgenic cows (presumably he thinks that DNA exists solely in the realm of pure maths or possibly in the astral plane). He also credulously repeats the claim that because this milk contains proteins found in human breast milk, it will be a suitable substitute, and implies that there is some benefit known to arise from drinking breast milk into adulthood. Much of his story revolves around the European controversy over GM foods.
A more recent report on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News is (predictably) much worse than the Telegraph, however. An article by-lined “Holly Williams, Beijing correspondent” describes the cows’ milk as “human breast milk” (the leap from “cow’s milk with some proteins found in human milk” to “human milk” being rather a large one). Williams cites dairy workers on the farm where the cows live as authorities on the nutritional value of the milk (“It’s better for you because it’s genetically modified.”). Like the Telegraph, the Sky report is mostly a critique of EU rules and conventions on GM food, and has the thinly veiled subtext of “Our Eurocrat lords and lefty loonies are holding back nutrition.”
Neither report links to the original study or mentions its title.