AWI Quarterly

rBGH Reconsidered

 

By Chris Bedford

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) was the first genetically engineered food product to be sold in the United States. Approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration on November 5, 1994, rBGH has played a significant role in the industrialization of dairy production which has serious implications for animal welfare and poses a serious health threat to consumers. In the last year, new information has come to light on rBGH which raises important questions about the efficacy and the ethics of the FDA approval process itself.

What it does

rBGH, also known as BST (for Bovine Somatotropin) and Posilac (Monsanto's product name), is injected by needle into cows every two weeks to increase individual animal milk production (by weight) from 10 to 15 percent. rBGH can extend lactation periods for up to three times their normal length. The current rBGH record is 1,374 days of milk production during a single lactation.

Bovine growth hormone (BGH) is a normal product of the pituitary gland of cows. rBGH, a synthetic version of BGH, is produced by snipping a piece of cow DNA that carries the code for (r)BGH and inserting it into the DNA of e-coli bacteria.

The unnatural extension of lactation produced by rBGH severely affects the cow by doubling the metabolic stress from the onset of lactation and draining her of needed nutrients, particularly calcium. Use of rBGH also stimulates production of another bovine hormone, Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) by up to 80%. In turn, IGF-1 is secreted into the milk in increased levels.  

The increased stress combined with the presence of IGF-1 increases the frequency of clinical mastitis, a very painful condition of the cow's udder. The warning label on Monsanto's Posilac explicitly states, "Cows injected with Posilac are at increased risk for clinical mastitis." Increased incidence of mastitis, in turn, necessitates increased use of antibiotics which can pass through to the milk. Currently, only four out of 82 commercially used antibiotics are tested for on a regular basis. A Wall Street Journal investigation found 20% of milk tested had illegal antibiotics present. Other studies have found 38% higher levels. These antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance in human consumers.

The increased stress combined with IGF-1, a known human health hazard, is at the center of the new information. The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval is based on an assertion that BST and IGF-1 is destroyed by the pasteurization process.

But normal pasteurization heats milk to 168 degrees for 15 seconds to destroy bacteria and other contaminants. The FDA approval study, conducted by a Canadian undergraduate named Paul Groenewegen from Guelph, Canada, cooked the milk for 30 minutes, one hundred and twenty times longer than commercial production practice. According to Groenewegen, only 19% of the rBGH and IGF-1 were destroyed in the FDA study's extended pasteurization process, not the 90% claimed by the agency.

In addition, activist Robert Cohen has uncovered information that suggests that Monsanto's rBGH formula approved and tested by the FDA was different from the one now on the market. If this is true, it makes the entire FDA approval process invalid. Small family dairy farmers, animal welfare activists, environmentalists, consumers and others have focused on this improper approval process in an effort to have Posilac withdrawn from the market.

rBGH in the European Union

In November, 1999, the European Commission adopted a measure that would permanently ban the use of rBGH in Europe. This action, announced by Commissioner David Byrne before a European Parliament hearing on November 24, 1999, represents the final act of a six-year struggle over rBGH use.

On December 20, 1994, the European Commission prohibited the marketing and use of rBGH, also in the European Union until December 31, 1999. The prohibition was enacted to give two EC scientific advisory bodies time to study the impact of rBGH use on animal welfare and public health. One of those committees, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, examined the effects of rBGH use on (1) the incidence of mastitis and other disorders in dairy cows and (2) the overall effect of rBGH use on dairy production.

On March 10, 1999, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare issued a 90-page report that concluded, "BST (rBGH) use causes a substantial increase in levels of foot problems and mastitis and leads to injection site reactions in dairy cows. These conditions, especially the first two, are painful and debilitating, leading to significantly poorer welfare in the treated animals. Therefore from the point of view of animal welfare, including health, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare is of the opinion that BST should not be used in dairy cows."

Monsanto, with support from the U.S. government, sought to counter these European actions by having the rBGH ban declared an illegal restraint of trade under GATT. But before such a charge could be brought under the treaty, international standards for rBGH use had to be established. On June 30, 1999, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, meeting in Rome, Italy failed to agree on an international standard for the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) for rBGH in milk. This ruling effectively stopped the GATT complaint by the United States and gave a green light to bans on rBGH by individual countries and the European Union.

Right now, rBGH is licensed for use only in Mexico, the United States and South Africa.

--Small family dairy farmers, animal welfare activists, environmentalists, consumers and others have focused on this improper approval process in an effort to have rBGH withdrawn from the market.


Photo, rBGH makes cows extremely susceptible to mastitis infections.  Note the enormously enlarged udder and the cow's depressed demeanor.

WTO and Sea Turtles Clash Again and Again

Turtles symbolize the over-reaching impact of globalization and the corporate usurpation of "free trade." This, after the Animal Welfare Institute led protestors through the streets of Seattle, Washington and Washington, DC in public demonstration against the damaging application of the World Trade Organization's (WTO's) obscure trade rules on animal welfare, conservation and environmental legislation.

US law requires shrimp trawlers to employ turtle-excluder devices (TEDs), which prevent turtles from drowning in shrimp nets. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) estimates "that TEDs are effective at excluding up to 97% of sea turtles" from shrimp nets.

No shrimp may be imported into America from countries not certified as having sound comparable regulatory policies involving the use of TEDs by shrimp trawlers, unless shrimp harvesting does not involve sea turtles. This TEDs law was challenged by India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand in 1996 as an unfair barrier to free trade.

Article XX of the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which established the WTO) allows for ten exceptions to international trade dealings, including measures "relating to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources." However, it must also be determined that such a regulation is not applied arbitrarily or discriminately. The WTO decided that the US sea turtle law was necessary to conserve natural resources, but the implementation of the law was arbitrary and unjustifiably discriminated against the WTO member countries that brought the case.

To comply with this unaccountable international trade body's ruling, the US amended its regulations, easing the requirements for compliance, enhancing due process by communicating directly with nations requesting certification to export shrimp to the US, offering technical assistance to countries requesting it and negotiating multilateral sea turtle conservation agreements. The National Marine Fisheries Service even held training workshops in Pakistan and Australia.

Dissatisfied with America's extensive efforts, Malaysia argued that its "exporters continue to suffer a loss of export opportunities and market share in the United States for wild-harvested shrimp due to the prolonged import prohibition" and appealed to a new WTO Panel. On June 15, 2001, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body upheld America's revised turtle protection measures.

While the US went through various machinations to comply with the original WTO ruling, Malaysia never even attempted to attain certification as a nation that could export shrimp to the US. 

Under the WTO, countries should be treated equally. Malaysia and the recent Dispute Panel itself treat the US decidedly differently. The Panel concludes, for instance, "given its scientific, diplomatic and financial means, it is reasonable to expect rather more than less from the [US] in terms of serious good faith efforts." So as a relatively wealthy nation, the US must meet higher standards in order to apply its own domestic legislation to protect animals-the very type of unequal treatment about which Malaysia complains.

Further, Malaysia defended the rights of "sovereign harvesting nations" by arguing that it was unfair for the US to determine unilaterally what conditions must be met in order to export shrimp to America. But if Malaysia suggests that it loses sovereignty by having to do certain things to gain access to the US market, surely it would agree that the US loses its own sovereignty without the power to set its own import regulations to protect endangered species.

The recent Panel ruling suggests that animals and the environment can be protected under the WTO-the outstanding question is whether we should have to endure five years of legal wrangling and other contortions in order to apply this much needed animal protection. And, of course, Malaysia can appeal once more.


Caption:  Hawksbill sea turtles, like other turtle species (green, loggerhead, flatback, leatherback, olive ridley, and Kemp's ridley) are in danger of extinction. US leadership and international protection are vital to their long-term survival. (Ursula Keuper-Bennett/turtles.org)


In Remembrance of Nick Carter

 

Nick Carter's death on March 16th in Zambia marked the loss of a dedicated and passionate conservationist. His work took him all over the world from London's emergency animal clinics in the 1950s to the Far East and Africa to investigate wildlife smuggling and illegal whaling. His painstaking investigations to expose pirate whaling operations gained him recognition in the 1970s and led to the seizure in South Africa of two whaling ships before their maiden voyages. Countless endangered whales were saved.

In 1994, Nick was a recipient of AWI's Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award for his last project, the Lusaka Agreement, a unique African initiative establishing a multinational Task Force to fight cross-border wildlife crime. Working quietly behind the scenes he shepherded the idea from paper to reality over 8 years, winning the Goldman Environmental Award in 1997. Instead of keeping the $75,000 prize, he gave it away, helping to establish a Fighting Wildlife Crime Fund. This was typical of Nick. He died owning nothing of value but his books. His personal needs came last. Work was his life. His wisdom, strength of purpose and clear sense of right inspired many. His death leaves a vacuum, but the legacy of his work and the motivation he inspired in others will ensure his spirit lives on.

—Rosalind Reeve

I want to add a note about one of Nick's brilliant ideas: He took a small ad in a journal for maritime engineers asking readers to communicate with him about any information they might have on pirate whalers. Wonderfully, he received a message from the engineer employed by a pirate whaler. The engineer bravely videotaped the piracy, including an endangered humpback whale being dragged up the slipway, butchered, and boxed for the Japanese market. The tape was shown widely on European television to great effect.

—Christine Stevens

The Farm Bureau Prediction on China

 

According to the May 2000 issue of Multinational Monitor, Alex Jackson speaking for the American Farm Bureau says, "China is our number one growth market in the world." Wheat, corn, soybeans and meat are expected to be the biggest "market gainers." Jackson claims that by 2020 "China could account for a quarter of all U.S. agricultural exports."

Caribbean Conservation Treaty Spawned

By Adam M. Roberts

Hundreds of species in the Wider Caribbean Region-including the American crocodile, Hawksbill sea turtle, Brown pelican, Cuba Sandhill crane, St. Lucia parrot, Spectacled bear, Giant armadillo, Cuvier's beaked whales, bottle-nosed dolphins and corals-have gained new protection under a Protocol to the Cartagena Convention concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW). When twenty-eight nations signed SPAW in Kingston, Jamaica in January 1990, they did so "conscious of the grave threat posed by ill-conceived development options to the integrity of the marine and coastal environment of the Wider Caribbean Region."

Unlike other multi-lateral conservation treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), SPAW not only protects species by prohibiting trade in wildlife, but also by prohibiting fishing, hunting or harvesting of threatened and endangered species, and by calling on Parties to designate protected areas in their sovereign jurisdiction to sustain "the natural resources of the Wider Caribbean Region." Parties shall, for example, "regulate activities, to the extent possible, that could have harmful effects on the habitats of the species." The protected region under SPAW extends throughout the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and areas off the Atlantic coast of Florida.

According to an analysis of SPAW by the United Nations Environment Programme, "248 out of the 481 species covered by, or proposed to be covered by the SPAW Protocol are also currently regulated under CITES." This means that 233 out of the 481 species addressed under SPAW gain international protection that would not exist were it not for this valuable Treaty.

Nine countries that signed the Protocol officially have ratified it: Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Panama, Venezuela, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago. These Parties have historically advocated weak positions on wildlife conservation and endangered species protection. At the most recent meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in Nairobi, Kenya, the Cuban delegation worked tirelessly (though, thankfully, unsuccessfully) to reopen the international trade in hawksbill turtle shell at the behest of Japan, the primary market for products made from turtle shell, called "bekko." The representative from the Dominican Republic spoke out in favor of this failed proposal. Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines also spoke out in support of a Japanese proposal at CITES to downlist gray whales. Without the involvement and vote of the United States in SPAW there may be no strong conservation voice during the deliberations of the Parties to SPAW. In fact, Cuba is scheduled to host the first important meeting of the Parties this September.

The Treaty was originally transmitted to the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 20, 1993 and has lain dormant there for eight years now. Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher testified: "All concerned agencies in the Executive Branch strongly support early ratification of the Protocol....I recommend, therefore, that the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region be transmitted to the Senate as soon as possible for its advice and consent to ratification...."

Now, there is an immediate imperative for the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification to enable the United States to have a vote during the Parties' Havana Conference. The State Department, which sends to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a letter every two years outlining the Administration's Treaty priorities, has assured us that SPAW will be toward the top of that priority list. Unfortunately, other, more controversial Treaties, are slowing down the submission of that letter.

The looming question is whether the Foreign Relations Committee will agree to move the Treaty under the new leadership of Senator Joseph Biden (D,DE), who has assisted nobly in saving dolphins from tuna nets.  If it does, will the Senate approve it, will the President ratify it, and will it be submitted to the depositary government, Colombia, in time for the US to have a vote during the first meeting?

Before the historic Party switch of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, the Chairman of the Committee was Republican Jesse Helms. On May 15, 2001, New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith sent a letter to Helms encouraging swift action on the Treaty. "The SPAW Protocol will enhance substantially the ability of nations in the Caribbean region to protect indigenous wildlife and the habitats on which these species depend," wrote Senator Smith. The new Senate leadership should listen to Bob Smith and others in support of the SPAW Protocol and approve it without delay.


Captions:

Seals are one of the many animals protected under SPAW, Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife. (Kip Evans/NMFS)

Bottlenosed Dolphins, the largest of the beaked dolphins, inhabit shallow, coastal waters, and have been traded live from Cuba, the US and Mexico to Portugal, Spain, Honduras, and elsewhere. (J. Stafford-Deitshch)

Vibrantly plumed scarlet macaws are subjected to illegal international trade and are at risk from the destruction of their forest homes. (Dave G. Houser/CORBIS)

Endangered ocelots, mainly hunted for their fur, inhabit jungles, marshes, and tropical rainforests from the United States, through Mexico and Central America, down through Argentina. (Tom Brakefield/CORBIS)

Elephant Seals Hot Iron Branded

 

Hot iron branding has caused terrible pain to animals, both wild and domestic. Photographs of branded elephant seals, with hot iron brand marks covering a significant part of the animals' sides (both sides so scientists can read the number easily) were published in the Sydney, Australia Mercury.

According to the March 29th Mercury, "The evidence collected shows the brands have created large weeping and infected wounds on many seals." The Parks and Wildlife Director, Max Kitchell, said, "a significant number of seals were left with horrific injuries which could be life-threatening."

The brandings, part of a 10 year population study, have now been mercifully stopped by the Macquarie Island government.

"The Voice of the Turtle is Heard in Our Land"

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—What They Do

Just at the close of World War II, a conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire created the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the monster that eventually morphed into the more binding World Trade Organization (WTO).

The World Bank is the largest lender in the world to poor countries, supported in part by almost a billion dollars a year of U.S. tax dollars. The type of development funded is often disastrous: megaprojects such as dams that flood habitats, villages and fertile valleys, huge deforestation schemes, and the conversion of grasslands to trampled cattle farms. When countries cannot meet their payments on the World Bank loans, they borrow from the IMF. The IMF is very willing to make the payments if, and only if, the countries are willing to take its "advice" on how to "improve" their economies. This advice comes in the form of "SAP's," short for Structural Adjustment Programs, in exchange for helping meet their payments. Thus the IMF is able to dictate the economic policies of the debtor countries. Its influence is vast and draconian. If the debtor countries refuse to go along, all international sources of money dry up.

Once in the debt cycle, very few countries are ever able to pay off their debts. Almost two-thirds of the recipients have become more dependent. From 1984 to 1990 alone, the cash flow from third world countries to commercial banks was over 178 billion dollars, prompting one former World Bank official to say: "Not since the Conquistadors plundered Latin America has the world experienced a flow in the direction we see today."

The World Bank and the IMF and Wildlife

This is where animal suffering comes in. Beside the damage wreaked by the megaprojects funded by the World Bank, the "austerity measures" imposed by SAP's continue the pain. The IMF conditions are oriented to opening up the country to foreign investment and development, converting farmland from subsistence agriculture to export crops and cashing in any "resource" available that can earn money on the global market. These "expendable resources" include ancient forests, fisheries and wildlife for the exotic food and pet trade.

The World Bank funded Livestock 1, 2 and 3 to encourage the construction of new cattle farms in Botswana. To sell the meat to the European market it had to be certified as free of hoof-and-mouth disease. Over 900 miles of fencing were strung across Botswana to separate the cattle from indigenous fauna. Tens of thousands of wildebeest died of thirst along the fences trying to reach their traditional watering places.

The World Bank is currently funding construction of an oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon, through pristine elephant and gorilla forest habitat. To comply with IMF pressure to raise export revenue, Indonesia clearcut and burnt millions of acres of ancient forests to convert into farmland for palm oil and other export crops. Great expanses of forest that the orangutans depend upon have been destroyed.

The World Bank funded construction of a fishing jetty and prawn culture area in the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, home of the largest population of Olive Ridley sea turtles in India and refuge for sea eagles, and smooth-coated Indian otters.

The shocking result of this World Bank largesse was reported by Reuters, February 18, 2000, as a "Major Endangered Turtle Die Off." The article states that hundreds of endangered Olive Ridley turtles mysteriously died after crawling onto East Indian beaches to nest.

Why We Marched as Turtles

At the WTO meeting in Seattle, AWI helped lead 240 people dressed as sea turtles in protest against the WTO's rejection of U.S. law requiring turtle excluder devices on boats of any country wishing to export shrimp to America.  Several countries refused employing these inexpensive devices, insisting that our law unfairly restricted trade. The WTO struck down our law.

Turtles are also globally imperiled by rapacious development and fishing policies promoted by the IMF and World Bank.  So, the turtle demonstrators resurfaced for a protest in D.C. against these institutions.  The turtles have been a tremendous hit—symbolically protesting the WTO's usurpation of American sovereignty, including enforcement of our animal protection laws, and the ecological destruction wrought by the World Bank and IMF.


Top Photo, drawing by Gary Hodges

Bottom Photo, Sea turtles march against the World Bank and IMF in Washington, D.C. (Jenny Pike)

Tsukiji's Fish Market

Japan's biggest fish market opens at dawn. Nick Haslam described it in The Financial Times 5 May 2001:

"Tsukiji's daily turnover is in excess of $25 million....Those big fish at our feet had been caught in long lines in the South Pacific or the Mediterranean only days before and then placed on ice packed in special wooden containers to be air-freighted to Japan as soon as the trawler docked at its home port. ...Wriggling eels were sliced on chopping boards, large blocks of red whale meat and innumerable species of shellfish and crab lay decoratively stacked on piles of finely chopped ice....Nearby, massive tuna were being cut up by three men skillfully wielding razor sharp long swords."

Long lines attract sea birds who see the bait from above and plunge in, often to be hooked and drowned. These birds include the wandering albatrosses in the South Pacific. An endangered species of albatross is being led toward extinction by long line fisheries. Petrels, too, are frequently captured in long line fisheries, where they die. The sea birds most praised by poets are being wiped out by this fishery in order to supply the expensive tuna to Tsukiji's fish market.

Noting that Nick Haslam described the whale meat as being offered in "large blocks of red whale meat," the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which has followed boats pursuing the large dolphins called Dall's Porpoises, questions "What kind of whale?" Japan has given itself a "Scientific Permit" to kill minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean. To sell the meat from these challenged "scientific studies" means that the blocks of meat came from minke whales or, this year, from sperm whales or Bryde's whales who for the first time were included in the Japanese self-awarded scientific permit. Or it could have come from Dall's Porpoise meat which is often canned and labeled "kujira," or whale meat.


Caption:  Unloading Dall's porpoise from a truck, Iwate Coast, Japan. (EIA)

Judge Strikes Down Phony "Dolphin-Safe" Label

 

On April 11, 2000, Judge Thelton Henderson of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco ruled against the blatant defrauding of consumers by the U.S. government. The judge struck down the new "dolphin-safe" label for canned tuna fish—a label that is distinctly dolphin unsafe. Judge Henderson questioned the diligence of the Department of Commerce in adequately studying the reason for the lack of recovery of several species of dolphins, hard hit for decades in the eastern tropical Pacific.

Despite the death of over seven million dolphins who were chased, exhausted and netted to catch the tuna schools beneath them, Secretary of Commerce William Daley made a preliminary finding last year that there was no proof that this technique of fishing caused "significant adverse impact." His finding triggered the release of a new, official Department of Commerce "dolphin-safe" label for canned tuna fish. The new label would have been used on cans of tuna caught by harassing dolphins. Judge Henderson essentially voided this fraud and sent the government back to the drawing board. His ruling came in the nick of time, with Mexico poised to flood the U.S. with tons of dolphin-deadly tuna.

Thanks to especially vocal consumers, all canned tuna now sold in the United States is caught without netting dolphins. All three major American tuna importers have vowed to continue the present definition of dolphin-safe and reject the phony label.


Photo, Spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) are one of the two species most heavily impacted by being chased and encircled by tuna nets in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. (Psarakos/Earthtrust)

Canadian Bear Parts Traders Jailed

 

Two brothers have been jailed and fined for illegal trafficking, possession and transportation of bear parts in Canada. Both men were fined $7,000 and will serve 31 days in jail. "These tough penalties send a clear message that illegal trafficking in wildlife parts will not be tolerated in British Columbia," said Environment, Lands and Parks Minister Joan Sawicki. Both men were apprehended when they delivered 10 bear gall bladders to undercover officers posing as customers. The value of the bear parts seized was estimated at $13,000 on the illegal market. This is reportedly the first time anyone has been convicted and imprisoned in Canada for the interprovincial transportation of bear parts under the federal act as the result of an undercover investigation.

— Information from British Columbia, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks News Release, May 31, 2000

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