The mineral levels in cow’s milk are much higher and so is its protein content (3.5 versus 1 percent), while the carbohydrates levels are significantly lower (roughly 4.5 versus 7 percent), he says. Crucially, there are a group of complex carbohydrates that are unique to human milk. “It’s now known that oligosaccharides play a huge role in the development of an infant, for example protecting against infections,” says Kelly. Infant formula can be tweaked to adjust for some of these differences, but it can’t fully replicate the real thing.
And because formula uses cow’s milk as a starting material, the environmental cost of producing it is also substantial. It takes an estimated 4,700 liters of water to make just 1 kilogram of milk powder. Formula also frequently contains palm oil, which has a large carbon footprint.
Lab-grown breast milk holds the potential to alleviate some of these problems. “Some of