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02/09/2009

Goats: Not Just for Making Feta Cheese and For Petting Zoos Anymore

Researchers have finally done it. Engineered a goat to save lives. On Friday, the FDA approved a genetically engineered goat that is able to produce in its milk (not for feta cheese making, mind you) a drug that will save the lives of patients born with a rare hereditary deficiency of antithrombin in their blood. A reported in the New York Times, these transgenic animals were approved to be bred with a human gene that allows them to create the human anticlotting protein, antithrombin.


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The advantage: according to the company, GTC Biotherapeutics, a single doe can produce as much antithrombin in a single year as 90,000 blood donations. That’s a lot of goats milk.

I wonder though: is that true because these goats are milked continuously all day long? Will these goats get to walk around in grassy fields or be treated like so many other commercial livestock and be locked down only to see sunlight an hour a day? What kinds of conditions are these animals kept in?

One might assume they would be treated like royalty, but also given that they are drug pumps for a pharma company, it’s just as likely that once old “Betsy” stops being a steady of milk producer, she’s just as likely to be treated similar to how female dogs are treated in puppy mills. Sorry “Betsy”, time to go to the big green pasture in the sky.

I say this only because the NYT quote from GTC’s spokesman speaks for itself: “If you need more, you breed more.”

Concerns about whether goats in particular will enter the food supply are pretty far-fetched at this early stage, but there are legitimate concerns about the abuse of these animals. But with the success of using goats for antithrombin, the use of other animals for “pharming” other pharmaceuticals, other companies are certain to follow suit with other milk and meat-producing animals.

Eventually, though, as the practice becomes more widespread, “pharms” should be kept completely distinct from conventional farms to ensure that milk and meat meant for standard consumption are not mixed with those meant for medical consumption. Labeling and signage will have to be devised by the USDA and FDA in conjunction to indicate that this is a “pharm” meaning that transgenic goats or cows or sheep are being raised here.

That time has come and we need to be ready.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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