A former co-worker sent me this link a few days ago.
A few years back when we did futures research and trend watching for a nutritional company, breast vs. bottle was a big issue. The trend is certainly a return to more natural forms of child rearing where breast-feeding (or providing breast milk in BPA free bottles at the very least) is the quintessential deed for parents.
Even the latter option is viewed with some skepticism by the most devoted “lactivists”. Since breastfeeding often is viewed as more than just nutrition, a bottle served in a nursery is pitiful regardless of the contents of that bottle. Breastfeeding in this sense is about establishing a self-reinforcing symbiotic cycle of oxytocin generation. A mother-baby cocoon manifested by the wrappings of fair-traded, ethnic patterned, organic cotton slings where no commercial, genetically modified and climate threatening products can intrude. And yes, it’s also about identity and image.
So reading that a group of cows in China has been genetically modified to produce human breast milk, I highly doubt they will be met by welcoming cheers from the breastfeeding intelligentsia. Quite the contrary, I think the producers of genetically modified cows’ milk will see few retail opportunities in the organic, local food outlets where breast feeding mothers typically by their groceries. One of the big environmental reasons for breastfeeding is that you don’t rely on the enslavement and suppression of flatulent, climate-affecting cows. So if you get your babymilk from GM cows, you are indeed supporting the business of flatulent, climate affecting cows no matter how healthy the milk is.
But what about the complete opposite consumers? The ones who never even gave breastfeeding a second thought? The ones who gave up after one week because it’s “icky” or they are afraid it may “deform my breasts”? Well, this segment probably won’t give the products from bovine wet-nurses a second thought either. So I guess it might have to share shelf and attention with traditional infant formula brands.
Falling in between these two extremes are of course a vast number of parents and care takers who have no other options than to feed their loved ones with a bottle. These include those caring for NICU babies, non-biological parents or custodians, mothers with hopeless work schedules and a minority of women with physiological lactation problems. These are the ones that have provided formula companies’ the best alibi ever since the “breast is best” campaigns started winning people over. These babies are no less important than “traditional” babies and give the moral impetus for most of the research money spent on making infant formula better and better. One might argue, some of these babies have en even greater need for superior nutrition than traditional babies. And to the extent that formula is their only alternative, it exculpates formula companies from some of the bad reputation they have earned over the years. It is just that people know that if the companies can stretch beyond these niche segments and thereby expand their market share, they will.
So this is how I suspect GM cow milk will enter (if it ever even makes it through Western legislatures!) If it is met with initial resistance (which it most likely is) it will start out taking the moral high road by finding niche markets where the product is well received and ethically justified. They might even brand it as a type of health food. But will they be satisfied with niche markets in the long run? Or will they try to eventually penetrate into more traditional markets? I suspect so.
Image: JelleS, Flickr