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#593 - Milk, RBGH and Cancer, 08-Apr-1998

Two veteran news reporters for Fox TV in Tampa, Florida have been fired
for refusing to water down an investigative report on Monsanto's
controversial milk hormone, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone).
Monsanto's rBGH is a genetically-engineered hormone sold to dairy
farmers, who inject it into their cows every two weeks to increase milk
production. In recent years, evidence has accumulated indicating that
rBGH may promote cancer in humans who drink milk from rBGH-treated
cows. It is the link between rBGH and cancer that Fox TV tried hardest
to remove from the story.

In the fall of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre
were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on rBGH in Florida
milk. After more than a year's work on the rBGH series, and three days
before the series was scheduled to air starting February 24, 1997, Fox
TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers
representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer "enormous
damage" if the series ran. WTVT had been advertising the series
aggressively, but canceled it at the last moment. Monsanto's second
letter warned of "dire consequences" for Fox if the series aired as it
stood. (How Monsanto knew what the series contained remains a mystery.)
According to documents filed in Florida's Circuit Court (13th Circuit),
Fox lawyers then tried to water down the series, offering to pay the
two reporters if they would leave the station and keep mum about what
Fox had done to their work. The reporters refused Fox's offer, and on
April 2, 1998, filed their own lawsuit against WTVT.

Steve Wilson has 26 years' experience as a working journalist and has
won four Emmy awards for his investigative reporting. His wife, Jane
Akre, has been a reporter and news anchor for 20 years, and has won a
prestigious Associated Press award for investigative reporting.

The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that WTVT violated its license from the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by demanding that the reporters
include known falsehoods in their rBGH series. The reporters also
charge that WTVT violated Florida's "whistle blower" law. Many of the
legal documents in the lawsuit --including Monsanto's threatening
letters --have been posted on the world wide web at
http://www.foxbghsuit.com for all to see.

No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can
intimidate TV stations into re-writing the news, but this case offers
an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and
their effects inside a news organization. It is not pretty.

It has been well-documented by Monsanto and by others that rBGH-treated
cows undergo several changes: their lives are shortened, they are more
likely to develop mastitis, an infection of the udder (which then
requires use of antibiotics, which end up in the milk along with
increased pus), and they produce milk containing elevated levels of
another hormone called IGF-1. It is IGF-1 that is associated with
increased likelihood of human cancers.[1] (See REHW #381, #382, #383,
#384, #483, but especially #454.)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rBGH for use in
cows in 1993, but the approval process was controversial because former
Monsanto employees went to work for the FDA, oversaw the approval
process, then went back to work for Monsanto. (See REHW #381.)

Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while falsely
claiming safety. The entire planet is now contaminated with hormone-
disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), thanks to
Monsanto's poor judgment and refusal to be guided by early scientific
evidence indicating harm. (See REHW #327, #328.) The 2,4,5-T in Agent
Orange --the herbicide that has brought so much grief to tens of
thousands of Vietnam veterans --is another example of Monsanto's poor
judgment and failure to heed scientific evidence to prevent harm.
Critics says rBGH is just one more example of Monsanto's monumentally
poor judgment. When Wilson and Akre asked Monsanto officials to respond
to these allegations of past poor judgment, Monsanto had no comment.

The Wilson/Akre rBGH series (a script of which is available on the web
site www.foxbghsuit.com) makes the following points:

** rBGH was never properly tested before FDA allowed it on the market.
A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two years of
testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days
on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was submitted to FDA but was
never published. FDA has refused to allow anyone outside FDA to review
the raw data from this study, saying it would "irreparably harm"
Monsanto.[2] Therefore the linchpin study of cancer and rBGH has never
been subjected to open scientific peer review.

** Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH
treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight --who lost 75% of his herd --says
on camera that Monsanto and Monsanto-funded researchers at University
of Florida withheld from him the information that other dairy herds
were suffering similar problems. He says Monsanto and the university
researchers told him only that he must be doing something wrong.

** The law required Monsanto to notify the FDA if they received
complaints by dairy farmers such as Charles Knight. But four months
after Knight complained to Monsanto, FDA had heard nothing from
Monsanto. Monsanto's explanation? Despite a series of visits to
Knight's farm, and many phone conversations, Monsanto officials say it
took them four months to figure out that Knight was complaining about
rBGH.

** Monsanto claims on camera that every truckload of milk is tested for
excessive antibiotics --but Florida dairy officials and scientists on
camera say this is simply not true.

** Monsanto says on camera that Canada's ban on rBGH has nothing to do
with human health concerns --but Canadian government officials speaking
on camera say just the opposite.

** Canadian government officials, speaking on camera, say they believe
Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain
approval for rBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials say the Canadians
misunderstood their offer of "research" funds.

** Monsanto officials claim on camera that "the milk has not changed"
because of rBGH treatment of cows. As noted earlier, there is abundant
evidence --some of it from Monsanto's own studies --that this is
definitely not true.

** On camera, a Monsanto official claims that Monsanto has not opposed
dairy co-ops labeling their milk as "rBGH-free." But this is definitely
not true. Monsanto brought two lawsuits against dairies that labeled
their milk "rBGH-free." Faced with the Monsanto legal juggernaut, the
dairies folded and Monsanto then sent letters around to other dairy
organizations announcing the outcome of the two lawsuits --in all
likelihood, for purposes of intimidation. (Conveniently, the FDA
regulations that discourage labeling of milk as "rBGH-free" were
written by Michael Taylor, an attorney who worked for Monsanto both
before and after his tenure as an FDA official. See REHW #381.)

At the web site www.foxbghsuit.com, you will find the version of the
Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox's attorneys. It has
been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly, nearly all of the
references to cancer have been removed from the script. Instead of
cancer we now have "human health effects" --whatever those may be.

The Wilson/Akre lawsuit comes at an especially good time to publicize
the relationship between rBGH and human cancer because new evidence has
come to light.

When a cow is injected with rBGH, its milk production is stimulated,
but not directly. The presence of rBGH in the cow's blood stimulates
production of another hormone, called Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1, or
IGF-1 for short. It is IGF-1 that stimulates milk production.

IGF-1 is a naturally-occurring hormone-protein in both cows and humans.
[3] The IGF-1 in cows is chemically identical to the IGF-1 in humans.
[4] The use of rBGH increases the levels of IGF-1 in the cow's milk,
though the amount of the increase is disputed. Furthermore, IGF-1 in
milk is not destroyed by pasteurization. Because IGF-1 is active in
humans --causing cells to divide --any increase in IGF-1 in milk raises
obvious questions: will it cause inappropriate cell division and
growth, leading to growth of tumors?

The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association
formally expressed concern about IGF-1 related to rBGH in 1991, saying,
"Further studies will be required to determine whether ingestion of
higher than normal concentrations of bovine insulin-like growth factor
[IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents, and adults."[5]

Monsanto's public position since 1994 has been that IGF-1 is not
elevated in the milk from rBGH-treated cows --despite its own studies
to the contrary. For example, writing in the British journal, LANCET,
in 1994, Monsanto researchers said "...IGF-1 concentration in milk of
rBST-treated cows is unchanged," and "...there is no evidence that
hormonal content of milk from rBST-treated cows is in any way different
from cows not so treated."[6] [Monsanto calls rBGH rBST (recombinant
bovine somatotropin), thus avoiding use of the word 'hormone.']
However, in a published letter, the British researcher T. B. Mepham
reminded Monsanto that in its 1993 application to the British
government for permission to sell rBGH in England, Monsanto itself
reported that "the IGF-1 level went up substantially [about five times
as much]."[7] The U.S. FDA acknowledges that IGF-1 is elevated in milk
from rBGH-treated cows.[4] Other proponents of rBGH acknowledge that it
at least doubles the amount of IGF-1 hormone in the milk.[8] The
earliest report in the literature found that IGF-1 was elevated in the
milk of rBGH-treated cows by a factor of 3.6.[9]

Does IGF-1 promote cancer? In January of this year a Harvard study of
15,000 white men published in SCIENCE reported that those with elevated
--but still normal --levels of IGF-1 in their blood are 4 times as
likely as average men to get prostate cancer.[1] The SCIENCE report
ends saying, "Finally, our results raise concern that administration of
GH [growth hormone] or IGF-1 over long periods, as proposed for elderly
men to delay the effects of aging, may increase risk of prostate
cancer." By analogy, Monsanto's current efforts to increase the IGF-1
levels in America's milk supply raise the question: if little boys
drink milk from rBGH-treated cows over long periods, will the elevated
levels of IGF-1 increase their prostate cancer rates? This is not a
question that should be answered by a wholesale experiment on the
American people --but that is precisely what Monsanto is currently
doing. It is difficult to put a happy face on this, try as Fox might.

The Wilson/Akre story is one of talented, hard-working journalists
trying to tell an important public health story, exposing lies and
corruption by Monsanto, by the FDA, and now by Fox, too. If nothing
else, perhaps the courage of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre will awaken
many more of us to the potential dangers of Monsanto's latest
experiment on America's children.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] June M. Chan and others, Plasma Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 [IGF-
1] and Prostate Cancer Risk: A Prospective Study," SCIENCE Vol. 279
(January 23, 1998), pgs. 563-566.

[2] In his book MILK, THE DEADLY POISON [ISBN 0-9659196-0-9] (Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Argus Press [Tel. (201) 871-5871], 1997), pgs. 67-96,
Robert Cohen describes his extensive efforts to obtain a copy of this
unpublished study from FDA. Cohen filed a Freedom of Information Act
request for the study and was refused; he appealed within FDA and lost.
He then filed a lawsuit in federal court and, again, lost. FDA and the
courts agree that the public should never learn what happened to those
rats fed rBGH because it would "irreparably harm" Monsanto. Based on
the scant information that has been published about the weight gains of
the rats during the 90-day study, Cohen believes that many or perhaps
all of the rats got cancer. Weight-gain in the rats is described
cryptically in Tables 1 and 2 in Judith C. Juskevich and C. Greg Guyer,
"Bovine Growth Hormone: Human Food Safety Evaluation," SCIENCE Vol. 249
(1990), pg. 875-884.

[3] T.B. Mepham, "Public health implications of bovine somatotrophin
[sic] use in dairying: discussion paper," JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY
OF MEDICINE Vol. 85 (December 1992), pgs. 736-739.

[4] Judith C. Juskevich and C. Greg Guyer, "Bovine Growth Hormone:
Human Food Safety Evaluation." SCIENCE Vol. 249 (1990), pgs. 875-884.

[5] Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association.
"Biotechnology and the American Agricultural Industry." JAMA [JOURNAL
OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION] Vol. 265, No. 11 (March 20, 1991),
pg. 1433.

[6] Robert J. Collier and others, "[Untitled Letter to the Editor],"
LANCET Vol. 344 (September 17, 1994), pg. 816. Monsanto Senior Vice
President Virginia V. Weldon, MD, says, "...the FDA has concluded from
detailed studies that IGF-1 is not increased." See Virginia V. Weldon,
"Re 'A Needless New Risk of Breast Cancer, Commentary, March 20'," LOS
ANGELES TIMES April 4, 1994, pg. 6.

[7] T. B. Mepham and others, "Safety of milk from cows treated with
bovine somatotropin," LANCET Vol. 344 (November 19, 1994), pgs. 1445-
1446.

[8] William H. Daughaday and David M. Barbano, "Bovine somatotropin
supplementation of dairy cows: is the milk safe?" JOURNAL OF THE
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Vol. 264, No. 8 (August 22, 1990), pgs.
1003-1005.

[9] C. G. Prosser and others, "Increased secretion of insulin-like
growth factor-1 into milk of cows treated with recombinantly derived
bovine growth hormone," JOURNAL OF DAIRY SCIENCE Vol. 56 (1989), pgs.
17-26.

Descriptor terms: bovine growth hormone; bgh; rbgh; farming; dairying;
agriculture; monsanto; cancer; carcinogens; fda; food and drug
administration; reporters; firings; tv; fox tv; tampa, fl; fl; steve
wilson; jane akre; wtvt; whistle blowers; fcc; journalistic ethics;
mastitis; antibiotics; igf-1; corruption; 2,4,5-t; pcbs; agent orange;
vietnam veterans; canada; ama;