[Pharmwaste] Why Monsanto Doesn't Want You to Know About Those Hormones in Your Dairy

DeBiasi,Deborah dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Thu Mar 27 17:23:19 EDT 2008


From: , Organic Consumers Association, More from this Affiliate 
Published March 27, 2008 09:43 AM 

Why Monsanto Doesn't Want You to Know About Those Hormones in Your Dairy

New York state dairy farmer John Bunting doesn't use an artificial
bovine growth hormone on his cows for one key reason. He doesn't want
them getting sick. "I care about my cows," he said, "I like my cows."

The growth hormone in question is made by the Monsanto Company. The
current debate about Monsanto's hormone involves labels. The
multinational agricultural biotech company seems to be getting nervous
about the prospect of telling consumers what's in their milk - or
rather, what's not in their milk.

A Monsanto-backed advocacy group is now going from state to state,
fighting labels that declare dairy products free from the bovine growth
hormone. Monsanto is the only producer of an artificial hormone, the
Posilac brand recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST or rBGH), that
increases milk production in cows. Labels saying "rBST-free" could lead
to financial losses for the corporation.

(Matt Mahurin) The growth hormone can mean more milk at cheaper prices.
But Posilac has been linked to health problems in both cows and humans
-- one reason the European Union and Canada both banned its use.
Anti-labeling measures by Monsanto are facing a backlash from consumers
who want to know what goes into their milk. Labeling would alert many to
the fact that a large majority of American dairy products come from cows
injected with the hormone. Many dairy processors are now using rBST-free
alternative to meet these growing consumer concerns, for the hormone has
been linked to cancer and other problems. Yet it doesn't look like the
FDA-approved synthetic hormone will be pushed out of the market any time

The advocacy group making the argument for Monsanto is American Farmers
for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT) -- an
organization that gets at least some financial backing from Monsanto.
AFACT was established in 2007 by the consultant Monty G. Miller of the
Colorado firm International Performance Solutions, whose client list
includes Monsanto. In launching AFACT, Miller received help from the
public relations firm Osborn & Barr, whose CEO, Steve Barr, is a former
Monsanto marketing executive.

AFACT has been pressuring state agriculture departments and state
legislators to introduce bills that would restrict hormone labels. Bills
restricting "rBST-free" labels have popped up in several state
legislatures -- including Kansas, Utah, Indiana and Missouri. In
Pennsylvania and New Jersey, similar pro-hormone bills have already been
voted down.

Most of the nation's leading dairy processors use milk from cows treated
with the bovine growth hormone in at least some products. Land O'Lakes,
Good Humor-Breyers, Dreyers, Dannon, Yoplait and Sargento are some of
the biggest buyers of milk from rBST-treated cows. Dean Foods and Kraft,
the leading U.S. dairy producers, use rBST milk in many products, but
not all. In June, Kraft will introduce a line of rBST-free 2-percent
milk products.

Kraft spokesman Basil Maglaris says the company is responding to a
growing consumer movement. "We do understand that some consumers -- not
all -- are looking for products from cows not treated with [rBST]," said
Maglaris. "So we are converting the line to give those consumers an
Converting the line will mean an increase in price for those 2-percent
products. But Kraft says that rBST-free products will attract new

Many of those customers are pointing to related health concerns -- for
both cows and humans. According to Oregon Physicians for Social
Responsibility, rBST increases the risk of cancer by elevating levels of
another hormone, IGF-1. High levels of IGF-1 can promote breast cancer,
prostate cancer and colon cancer.
"If you have even just subtle amounts of IGF-1, there's a link to
breast, prostate and colon cancer," said Dr. Jenny Pompilio, an
internist with Kaiser Permanente in Oregon. "It's been known for years
that that particular hormone is linked with cancers [because of its]
effects on the endocrine system. The endocrine system is so sensitive
that subtle effects can [make a difference]."

The other health concern affects first cows and then humans, says the
Oregon physicians group. People who consume these dairy products could
become resistant to antibiotics -- making them prone to bacterial
infections. The resistance is directly related to health problems of
cows injected with the hormone. These cows have higher rates of udder
infections, or mastitis. When they are treated with antibiotics,
resistant bacteria can grow. People who later eat dairy products from
these cows can also build up resistance. When antibiotics cease to be
effective, the threat of infectious diseases increases.

Monsanto says its synthetic hormone does not create problems. "POSILAC
is perfectly healthy for cows," said Monsanto spokesperson Lori Hoag,
"bST is a naturally occurring hormone in every cow -- rbST is an
additional supplement of that naturally occurring hormone."

Hoag says that there is no difference between milk from cows injected
with rBGH/rBST and other milk. "[A]ll milk is the same. All milk has
bST, all milk has hormones," she said. "Labels that claim "rbST-free"
are misleading to consumers, making them believe there is a difference
in the milk, when, in fact, there is none."

But New York dairy farmer Bunting disagrees. He says that rBST is a
whole protein off from naturally occurring BST. "If you created a
molecule one protein different, you could not honestly say there could
be no difference [between the two]," said Bunting. "Monsanto and the FDA
are asking farmers and consumers to take a risk for which there is no
known benefit."

While there may be no benefits when it comes to human health, economic
gains could be great for some. Cows injected with the hormone produce
roughly a gallon more milk a day than untreated cows. (On average,
untreated cows produce about eight gallons a day.) That means dairy
farmers can produce more milk at lower costs, and dairy processors can
make their products at lower costs. Big dairy farmers, big dairy
processors and Monsato all get more money.

But Bunting says that rBST poses risks to smaller dairy farms, including
his own. He says big farms that use rBST to produce more milk could lead
to smaller farms going under. "More milk means fewer farmers," said
Bunting, "It does not benefit the [whole] farm community."

It could benefit consumers, though. Using rBST brings milk prices down.
Monsanto's product therefore provides an option for people who just want
less expensive milk, cheese and ice cream.

Monsanto says that labeling could be unfair to certain corporations.
"[B]ecause there is no difference [between BST and rBST]," said
spokesperson Hoag, "there is no way to verify whether or not rbST was
used as a supplement. So, even though some processors claim their milk
to be 'rbST-free,' they cannot prove that to be true."

The ice cream company GoodHumor-Breyers has concerns about this. "We
purchase our dairy ingredients from cooperatives, and are unable to
guarantee that rBGH is not used," said GoodHumor-Breyers spokesperson
Andon Tate, "Currently, there is no test available that can distinguish
between the naturally-occurring BST and the rBGH growth hormone."

But even consumers who don't care about the growth hormone's health
effects, says consumer advocate Jill Richardson of Recipe for America,
are speaking out against Monsanto's efforts to restrict dairy labeling.
"Some people even say that they don't personally mind the idea of milk
with rBST," she said, "but the dishonesty of this [anti-labeling] tactic
makes them furious." 

Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email:   dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!)
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219
PH:         804-698-4028
FAX:      804-698-4032

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