The Dairy Debate: Bovine Growth Hormone


MONSANTO'S GENETICALLY ENGINEERED PRODUCTS MEET RESISTANCE

by Ronnie Cummins

Monsanto has suffered a number of technological and public relations"glitches" over the past few years, including the massive marketplace failureof its billion-dollar flagship product, rBGH. After three years on themarketplace, only 4% of America's dairy cows are being shot up with thedrug. Wall Street analysts told Business Week magazine in 1996 that dueto farmer and consumer opposition (and the fact that rBGH damages thehealth of cows) the drug was a total failure, and that in economic terms itshould be taken off the market. [Editor's note: rBGH has been reliablylinked to health problems that cause extreme suffering to cows, includingmastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder. See the Spring/Summer1997 AWI Quarterly for more details.]

In scientific and public health terms, data continues to pile up thatsignificantly increased levels of the human growth hormone factor IGF-1in genetically engineered milk and dairy products constitute a serioushuman health risk for increased breast and colon cancer. In addition,scientific studies have recently been brought to the attention of the WorldHealth Organization that injecting mammals with genetically engineeredgrowth hormones very likely increases their susceptibility to deadly,incurable brain-wasting diseases such as BSE, commonly known as MadCow Disease, or its human variant, Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. Consequentlythe WHO, the European Union, and the Codex Alimentarius areunlikely to ever approve rBGH as a safe drug, leaving the U.S. as the onlyindustrialized nation in the world to have approved rBGH.

Other troubles for Monsanto's genetically engineered products continueto mount: in mid-1996 Monsanto/Calgene's highly-touted "FlavrSavr" tomato was taken off the market, ostensibly because of productionfailures and genetic glitches; Monsanto's entire Canadian geneticallyengineered rapeseed or canola crop had to be recalled earlier this yearbecause of unexplained "technical difficulties"; and up to a million acresor 50% of Monsanto's Bt Cotton crop in the U.S. were attacked bybollworms in 1996, prompting lawsuits by outraged cotton growers whoclaim they were defrauded by Monsanto. Further, dairy cows eatingMonsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybeans are producing milk with differentchemical characteristics (higher fat levels) than cows who are eatingregular soybeans.


Ronnie Cummins is the National Director of the Pure FoodCampaign USA. For more information, write to: Pure FoodCampaign, 860 Highway 61, Little Marais, Minnesota 55614,or call (800) 253-0681.

More on Monsanto

A German activist who forwarded criticisms of Monsanto to anInternet mailing list found himself the target of the giant chemicalcorporation's lawyers—and the company lost.

Last winter, Werner Reisberger received a message from a group ofprotestors who were organizing an anti-Monsanto protest. The protestorscalled Monsanto "A corporation of poisons, genes and swindle." Reisbergerpassed the announcement on to an e-mail discussion list called GENESIS,which concerns food technology. The thin-skinned corporation suedReisberger, even though he was not the author of the message and thediscussion list only had 24 members.

"Monsanto claimed that I offended the company with the word'swindle' and endangered their creditworthiness," Reisberger wrote inEarth Island Journal. "They gave me three days to sign a declarationpromising never again to say, 'Monsanto, the corporation of swindle.'Every time I repeated this sentence, I would have to pay Monsanto100,000 DM ($66,666)."

Reisberger refused to sign, and a German court rejected all of Monsanto'sclaims and ordered the company to pay the court costs. Such hypersensitivelitigation only serves to make giant companies look silly, as Monsantoshould have learned from England's McLibel trial.

AWI Quarterly Fall 1997, Vol. 46, No. 4, p. 10.


Three Cheers for Ben & Jerry's—Anti-rBGH Label Can Be Used

Just when we feared that the large transnational corporations had co-opted the federal government and quelled the spirit of smaller companies, a press release from Ben and Jerry's arrived. They've won a lawsuit enabling them to label their ice cream with the statement: "We Oppose Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. The family farmers who supply our milk and cream pledge not to treat their cows with rBGH."

Up to now, this fight has gone against the cows, the family farmers and the consumers ever since Monsanto persuaded the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the corporation's "Posilac"—genetically engineered rBGH. FDA approved it and even refused to require labeling of milk from cows injected with the drug despite studies, some of which reported a 79% increase in mastitis (infection of the udder) resulting in greater need for antibiotics, reduced pregnancy rates, cystic ovaries and uterine disorders, digestive disorders and lacerations, enlargements and calluses of the knee.

According to Ben & Jerry's CEO, when FDA "approved voluntary labeling in 1994 but left regulation of labels to the states, we began contacting each state to get approval for our label. We sued the largest of them, Illinois, in federal court citing the Constitution's First Amendment protection of freespeech. We have the right to tell our customers what is and isn't in our ice cream."

Since 1994, Illinois has threatened to seize products having an anti-rBGH label, thereby effectively stopping such labeling throughout the country because it is not feasible for nationally distributed dairy products to be labeled differently in individual markets.

A 1996 poll commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture and performed by researchers at the Universities of Wisconsin and Oregon showed that 94 percent of more than 1,900 respondents surveyed nationwide favored labeling that would allow consumers to distinguish between milk fromcows treated with rBGH and milk from untreated cows. Other consumer surveys support this finding.

The FDA issued interim guidelines on voluntary labeling in February 1994, setting forth how labels could be worded so as to be truthful, not misleading, and in compliance with food and labeling law. Most states followed those guidelines, but a handful of states including Illinois refused to permit any anti-rBGHlabeling.

Ben and Jerry's CEO said he feels confident the label approved in this settlement with the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago addresses all legitimate concerns that could be raised by any state.

According to the Organic Valley cooperative, which supplies milk and cream to Ben & Jerry's, "The family farmers who make up the Organic Valley Family of Farms are in this business because we love cows. We would not knowingly subject our animals to a drug with side effects that could cause illness, death and create undue stress on the animal. Utilizing any genetically engineered product is counter to what we believe in."

From now on, humanitarians will be able to reject dairy products that don't have the anti-rBGH label and stop the spread of these cruel injections into helpless cows. It is a laudable precedent for other efforts to label products whose manufacture is injurious to animals. legislation on FDA rules regarding labeling is pending in Congress .


AWI Quarterly Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 46, No.2 & 3, p. 17.


"Bovine Economics"

Having twins is usually a cause for celebration. But for a dairy farmer a cow that bears twin calves can be a bad omen: twin births weaken both the mother and her offspring. One or two sets of twins in any herd is par for the course, but when Lisbon, New York dairyman Jay Livingston discovered 20 sets of twins among his 200 milk-producing cows, it was a calamity. He lost little time in dispatching the 40 calves to the slaughterhouse where they were ground up for bologna and hot dogs. Many of the sickly mothers will soon follow their weakling calves, ending up as hamburger in the school lunch program.

The lot of these cows is more than an inexplicable twist of fate. Livingston had been injecting his herd with Monsanto's new genetically engineered growth hormone known as rBGH-trade name Posilac which promises to increase the amount of milk a cow produces....

For the first couple of months on rBGH "our cows seemed to be doing 0K" [Livingston] says. "Their milk production increased from 40 to 65 pounds per day. Then they just went all to pieces. We had a half a dozen die and then the rest started ''experiencing major health problems, cows went off their feed, experienced severe weight loss, mastitis and serious foot problems....

Dairy Profit Weekly, [an] industry report, quotes Mike Connor, a dairy nutritionist in Black Earthy County, Texas, who said two-thirds of his client farmers are phasing out rBGH. Noting recurrent side effects, he said, "Many concluded that the risk was not worth the benefit" Dick Bengen, an 800-cow dairy producer from Everson, Washington, recently told a Toronto dairy symposium that he had disappointing results using rBGH on his herd, saying that many of the cows with increased milk production require more feed. The extra costs -- a shot per cow every two weeks runs $5.80 -- and the additional feed made the economic gains marginal at best.

Excerpted from "Bovine Economics " by James Ridgeway. The article appeared in the March 28, 1995 issue of the Village Voice.

AWI Quarterly Spring 1995, Vol. 44, No.2 p. 16.


Congress Can Protect Dairy Cows

At a press conference on June 21, 1994, Congressman Bernard Sanders (Ind., VT), with the support of numerous animal protection, family farm, and consumer groups, announced the introduction of federal legislation, H.R. 4618, entitled the "Bovine Growth Hormone Milk Act."

The Congressman recognized that injections of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) make cows sick, citing that "the POSILAC (synthetic rBGH) label lists a variety (20) of adverse side effects." He continued:

It also warns that using synthetic rBGH may result in the use of more antibiotics, increasing the risk of antibiotics ending up in consumers' milk. The FDA calls this a 'manageable risk.' The question is, why are we taking any risk at all for a drug that no one, other than the Monsanto Company, needs or wants.

Congressman Sanders concluded, "There is no need for this inhumane treatment of cows."

Sanders' legislation requires the Secretary of Agriculture to label milk or a milk product intended for human consumption with the warning "This milk (product) was produced by cows injected with synthetic BGH" if it comes from injected cows. Such a label will enable American consumers to select dairy products that involve the least stress and suffering to the cows from which they come.


AWI Quarterly Spring 1994, Vol. 43, No.2 p. 11.


Corporate Greed Targets Helpless Dairy Cows

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its stamp of approval to POSILAC, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), for commercial use. The giant Monsanto Company has spent an amazing $300 million to create and promote this dangerous growth hormone. Cows immobilized in their stanchions must submit biweekly to injections of POSILAC which force them to give unnaturally high amounts of milk. POSILAC's official FDA warning label reveals its threat to the cows' welfare:

  • ...Use of POSILAC has also been associated with increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus during the treatment period. Cows injected with POSILAC may have small decreases in gestation length and birth weight of calves and they may have increased twinning rates...
  • Cows injected with POSILAC are at an increased risk for clinical mastitis (visibly abnormal milk). In addition, the risk of subclinical mastitis (milk not visibly abnormal) is increased ...
  • Use of POSILAC may result in an increase in digestive disorders such as indigestion, bloat, and diarrhea ...
  • Studies indicated that cows injected with POSILAC had increased numbers of enlarged hocks and lesions (e.g. lacerations, enlargements, calluses) of the knee (carpal region) and second lactation or older cows had more disorders of the foot region.

Mastitis is a cruelly painful disease affecting the udders of dairy cows. Farmers try to treat it with antibiotics. Increased use of antibiotics for food-producing animals is a major cause of resistance to antibiotics when treating human bacterial infections. In addition, Dr. Samuel Epstein, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, warns that higher levels of "Insulin-like Growth Factor-l" in the milk from treated cows may lead to human breast cancer.

The FDA's bias in approving use of POSILAC is accentuated by its refusal to require labeling of dairy products containing milk from POSILAC-injected cows. The Animal Welfare Institute strongly urged FDA to require such labeling. Compassionate consumers have the right to know that a dangerous product was used on the cows which provided their milk, similar to the right to know that tuna is "dolphin safe" or that cosmetics are "cruelty-free."

FDA contends that such labels would give "misleading implications" and that "No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows."

This ignores the clear distinction between products from a healthy animal and products from a sick and suffering one.

This distinction is made clear by dairy farmer John Kurtz who used rBST on his herd. According to Kurtz: "What actually occurred, by the time we finished the second lactation, is that we had none of the cows that received rBST stay in the herd. 100% of the cows failed to conceive during the second lactation, we had 19 death loss, and we had 14.8% 'down cow' loss."

After being analyzed at the University of Minnesota, it was discovered that "these cows had taken so much calcium out of their skeleton, even their shoulder blades had a ripple effect like a ripple potato chip where they had pulled the calcium out of the skeleton to produce milk."

Monsanto, reacting to negative publicity and lack of support among many producers, is beginning to sue companies who refuse rBST-tainted products. Swiss Valley Farms of Davenport, Iowa now faces legal challenge from Monsanto for advertising that their milk is farm-certified rBST-free.

The 12 member nations of the European Union have reject the use of rBST, but they could be forced to accept products from rBST treated cows if the United States challenges the European ban under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Thus this unjustifiable and unnecessary suffering may be inflicted oncows on both sides of the Atlantic.

Widespread public protest is called for to stop the spread of the insidious corporate cruelty. Already an "unexpectedly strong public resistance to a new drug that makes cows produce more milk" was reported on the front page of the Business section of The Washington Post (March 15, 1994). Please make your voice heard. The suffering which cows are forced to undergo simply to increase milk production cannot be tolerated.

ACTION: Urge your supermarket, grocer or convenience store to require certification that the milk, cheese and other dairy products they carry come only from cows that have not been subjected to injections of rBST. Encourage your friends to do the same. For more information and a list of companies whose products are rBST-free, contact: The Pure Food Campaign; 1130 - 17 Street, NW, Suite 300; Washington, DC 20036; 1-800-253-0681.


AWI Quarterly Winter 1994, Vol. 43, No 1, p.20.

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