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#381 - Hormones In Milk: No Right To Know, 16-Mar-1994

The David and Goliath battle of the century is shaping up over a
synthetic hormone called rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) that
was approved by federal officials last month for use in milk cows in
the U.S.

David is a handful of farm and consumer organizations, and Goliath is a
coalition of agrichemical companies backed by top officials of the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA). At issue is the safety of milk, and the right of
consumers to know what chemicals and drugs have been added to the milk
they buy in the grocery store. Consumer advocates say the public has a
right to know. The agrichemical industry and the Clinton administration
say not.

Last November 5 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared
rBGH "safe" for use in milk cows, and last month Monsanto, the chemical
company, began selling its version of the drug to dairy farmers.[1]
Other companies hoping to get into the business are Eli Lilly, UpJohn,
and American Cyanamid. Monsanto's version of the drug is intended to be
injected into milk cows every two weeks, to stimulate milk production
by 5% to 20%. Consumer and farm organizations, including Consumers
Union, publisher of CONSUMER REPORTS magazine, have presented evidence
that byproducts of the hormone treatment are measurable in milk and are
not safe for humans or for cows; they also say approval of rBGH clearly
violated FDA's own regulations.[2] They want the product withdrawn from
the market, and, until that happens, they want hormone-containing milk
labeled so that consumers can make an informed choice about the milk
they buy.

In eleven different surveys, American consumers have indicated
overwhelmingly that they do not want milk that contains genetically-
engineered hormones, and that they want milk labeled so they can make
an informed choice in the grocery store.[3] For example, in a survey of
1000 people in Wisconsin (a leading milk-producing state), 75% of
respondents said they would pay as much as 44 cents extra per gallon to
avoid genetically-engineered hormones in their milk. This attitude was
consistent regardless of income levels, educational background, or
residence in rural or urban areas.

In response to consumer concerns, the FDA and Monsanto have spoken with
a single voice: the FDA has warned grocery stores not to label milk as
free of the hormone,[4] and on Feb. 18 Monsanto sued two milk
processors that labeled milk as free of the hormone.[5]

It is no accident that the FDA and Monsanto are speaking with one voice
on this issue. The FDA official responsible for the agency's labeling
policy, Michael R. Taylor, is a former partner of King & Spaulding, the
Washington, D.C. law firm that has brought the lawsuits on behalf of
Monsanto. Taylor, a lawyer, is a classic product of the revolving door.
Starting in 1980, he worked for FDA for 4 years as executive assistant
to the commissioner. In 1984 he joined King & Spaulding and remained
there until 1991; during that time the law firm represented Monsanto
while the company was seeking FDA approval of rBGH. In 1991, President
Bush's FDA Commissioner, David A. Kessler, Jr., revolved Taylor back
into FDA as assistant commissioner for policy.[6] Kessler himself was
retained by President Clinton, as was Taylor. Last month Taylor signed
the FEDERAL REGISTER notice warning grocery stores not to label milk as
free of rBGH, thus giving Monsanto a powerful boost in its fight to
prevent consumers from knowing whether rBGH produced their milk.

FDA offers two justifications for preventing labeling: 1) FDA is not
requiring anyone to keep track of who is using rBGH and who is not and,
without a paper trail, grocery stores might make false claims if they
said their milk was rBGH-free. 2) FDA says there is "virtually" no
difference between milk from cows injected with rBGH and cows not
injected. Virtually means "almost." (More on this claim below.)

To remedy the first problem, Consumers Union had suggested that FDA
simply require Monsanto to maintain a public list of people who buy
rBGH, thus allowing grocery stores and milk wholesalers to determine
easily whether any particular farmer is, or isn't, using the
controversial drug. FDA refused. And Monsanto is not revealing who is
buying rBGH.

By its lawsuits, Monsanto has sent a clear message to anyone who might
be tempted to label milk with words about rBGH. Evidently Monsanto
fears that informed consumers might choose not to buy milk produced by
rBGH-treated cows. An internal company memo dated Sept. 21, 1993,
equates a government labeling requirement with a government "ban" on
its product.[7]

Monsanto has a lot at stake. The company has been hurt in recent years
by lawsuits and publicity over several of its chemical products that it
insisted were safe, such as the herbicide 2,4,5-T used in Agent Orange
in Vietnam, and PCBs, which Congress banned in 1976. Some Wall Street
analysts believe that Monsanto has bet its future on genetically-
engineered farm and food products, and that failure of rBGH could
damage the company significantly. Monsanto has reportedly spent $300
million since 1984 developing the rBGH hormone. According to Consumers
Union, rBGH should earn Monsanto $300 to $500 million annually in the
U.S., and $1 billion each year worldwide.[8]

Both the food and pharmaceuticals industries are reportedly very
worried that consumer rejection of rBGH in milk would dim the future
for all genetically engineered foods.[9] According to industry
analysts, some 60 genetically-engineered food products are scheduled
for approval by FDA in the next few years. For its part, the Clinton
administration is counting on genetic engineering to give America a
competitive advantage in the global marketplace and thus boost the
President's flagging prospects for re-election.

Monsanto is clearly aware of the Clinton Administration's enthusiasm
for genetically-engineered foods to boost the economy. An internal
company memo[7] dated Sept. 21, 1993, suggests that, to persuade the
Administration to allow rBGH onto the market, a Monsanto lobbyist
should "Let [USDA] Secretary Espy know that companies like Monsanto
will likely pull out of the agriculture biotech area if the
Administration will not stand up to persons like Senator Feingold [of
Wisconsin, an opponent of rBGH use]." Espy is now solidly on board
promoting rBGH.

FDA Commissioner Kessler has also proven himself to be a loyal soldier
in the consumer wars. He has consistently opposed giving consumers a
choice by labeling milk. He says things such as, "The public can be
confident that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to
consume." (BST is Monsanto's name for rBGH.) And, "There is virtually
no difference in milk from treated and untreated cows."[10]

Unfortunately, a considerable body of scientific evidence from the
U.S., England and Europe indicates that Commissioner Kessler is simply
not telling the whole truth. Substantial evidence indicates that milk
from rBGH-treated cows is very likely to feature:

** more pus from infected cows' udders;

** more antibiotics given to cows to treat those infections;

** an "off" taste and shortened shelf life, because of the pus;

** perhaps higher fat content and lower protein content;

** more of a tumor-promoting chemical called IGF-I, which has been
implicated in cancers of the colon, smooth muscle, and breast.

In return for accepting increased pus, more antibiotics, and a tumor-
promoting chemical in their glass of milk, what benefits will
consumer's get?

None at all. Zero. Even FDA says there are no consumer benefits. In
fact, because the U.S. already produces a surplus of milk, which is
purchased by Uncle Sam, increasing milk production with rBGH will COST
the taxpayer an additional $200 million or more each year, estimates
Consumers Union. That's family money pumped into some chemical
company's pocket. That's who benefits.

[More on this developing scandal next week.]

To keep abreast of the growing anti-rBGH campaign and boycott, stay in
touch with the Pure Food Campaign [1130 17th Street, N.W., Suite 630,
Washington, DC 20036; telephone (202) 775-1132] and with Food & Water
[Rural Route 1, Box 114, Marshfield, VT 05658; telephone (802) 426-
3700.]

--Peter Montague

=====

[1] Keith Schneider, "Lines Drawn in a War Over a Milk Hormone," NEW
YORK TIMES March 9, 1994, pg. A12.

[2] "Statement of Michael Hansen, Ph.D, March 10, 1994," Consumer
Policy Institute, Consumers Union, [101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703-
1057; telephone (914) 378-2000].

[3] Michael Hansen, "Testimony Before the Joint Meeting of the Food
Advisory Committee & the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee on
Whether to Label Milk From rBGH-Treated Cows by Michael K. Hansen,
Ph.D.," May 6, 1993. Available from: Consumer Policy Institute,
Consumers Union, 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703-1057. Telephone
(914) 378-2000.

[4] Keith Schneider, "F.D.A. Warns the Dairy Industry Not to Label Milk
Hormone-Free," NEW YORK TIMES February 8, 1994, pg. A1.

[5] Schneider, note 1 above. In an interview with RHWN March 15, Matt
Bennett of King & Spaulding refused to discuss these lawsuits,
referring us to Tom McDermott at Monsanto in St. Louis, whom we could
not reach before our press deadline.

[6] "Two New Deputy Commissioners Named By Kessler," FDA TALK PAPER
[T91-38] (Rockville, Md.: Food and Drug Administration, July 15, 1991).
Available from Brad Stone at FDA Press Office; phone (202) 205-4241.

[7] Virginia V. Weldon, "Coehlo Talking Points for Espy Dinner," a memo
on Monsanto company letterhead dated Sept. 21, 1993.

[8] Michael K. Hansen, BIOTECHNOLOGY AND MILK; BENEFIT OR THREAT? AN
ANALYSIS OF ISSUES RELATED TO BGH/BST USE IN THE DAIRY INDUSTRY (Mount
Vernon, N.Y.: Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, 1990), pg. 1.

[9] Kathleen Day, "Hormone Hubbub Hinders Program," WASHINGTON POST
March 15, 1994, pgs. D1, D5.

[10] "FDA Approves Monsanto's BGH, Consumer Groups Call Boycott, Milk
Industry Gears Up Ad Campaign," CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER Nov. 15, 1993,
pg. 4.

Descriptor terms: consumer protection; fda; usda; monsanto; hormones;
milk; food safety; eli lilly; upjohn co; american cyanamid; consumers
union; genetic engineering; biotechnology; gene splicing; king &
spaulding; david kessler, jr; michael taylor; labeling; rtk; mike espy;
antibiotics; cows; cattle; dairy farming; pure food campaign; food &
water; consumer policy institute; bgh;