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BAD GENETIC ENGINEERING IDEA

OK. Fusing an apple and a peach together is fine; maybe even a mushroom and a tomato.

Most people can accept a little experimenting if the technology will make us healthier. But fusing human and cow genes to make milk?U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say "humanized" cow's milk may be one of the near-future's most revolutionary consumer products.

Robert J. Wall, with the gene evaluation unit at USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., predicted that humanized cow's milk will be produced by a coming generation of transgenic dairy cattle.

Transgenic animals have been given genes from human or other species. In layman's terms, this means consumers will be buying milk derived from a genetically part-human, "mutant-like" species.

Wall claims "that genetically engineered milk, which will more closely approximate human breast milk, should be substantially more healthful for human infants."

Public-health experts have encouraged breast-feeding because cow's milk and commercial infant formula don't contain the same variety of critical components found in mother's milk. While a "more human" cow's milk could offer benefits to older children and adults who consume dairy products, Wall is misdirected if he thinks this brave new milk can be extracted without some consequences.

Pittsburgh nutritionist Yerodin Lamum-ba said there is no real substitute for a mother's milk. Injecting human genes into a cow would not make the milk any more healthful for infants because it will still contain components from the cow.

Fortunately, the dairy industry faces a major obstacle in producing humanized cow's milk: cost. The process of inserting human genes into cattle costs about $300,000 per cow.

We think the industry would be advised to save its money. Humanized cow's milk is one innovation society may want to do without.