BGH: Monsanto And The Dairy Industry's Dirty Little Secret

Seven years ago, Feb. 4, 1994, despite nationwide protests by consumer
groups, Monsanto and the FDA forced onto the US market the world's
first GE animal drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH,
sometimes known as rBST). BGH is a powerful GE drug produced by
Monsanto which, injected into dairy cows, forces them to produce
15%-25% more milk, in the process seriously damaging their health and
reproductive capacity. Despite warnings from scientists, such as Dr.
Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union and Dr. Samuel Epstein from
the Cancer Prevention Coalition, that milk from rBGH injected cows
contains substantially higher amounts of a potent cancer tumor
promoter called IGF-1, and despite evidence that rBGH milk contains
higher levels of pus, bacteria, and antibiotics, the FDA gave the
hormone its seal of approval, with no real pre-market safety testing
required. Moreover, the FDA ruled, in a decision marred by rampant
conflict of interest (several key FDA decision makers, including
Michael Taylor, previously worked for Monsanto), that rBGH-derived
products did not have to be labeled, despite polls showing that 90% of
American consumers wanted labeling–mainly so they could avoid buying
rBGH-tainted products. Family farm advocates joined consumers in
demanding a ban on rBGH, predicting that the controversial drug would
drive milk prices down, aggravate an already serious problem of milk
overproduction, give factory-style dairies added production capacity
(since these were the dairies expected to use the drug), and tarnish
the image of milk and dairy products.

All of the major criticisms leveled against rBGH have turned out to be
true. (For more on the hazards and controversy surrounding rBGH click
on our website link below and go to the rBGH section). Since 1994,
every industrialized country in the world, except for the US, has
banned the drug. Even the Codex Alimentarius, the food standards arm
of the World Trade Organization, has refused to back up Monsanto's
claim that the drug is safe. In 1998, Canadian government scientists
revealed that Monsanto's own data on feeding rBGH to rats, carefully
concealed by the company and the FDA, indicated possible cancer
dangers to humans. Since rBGH was approved, approximately 40,000
small and medium-sized US dairy farmers, 1/3 of the total in the
country, have gone out of business, concentrating milk production in
the hands of industrial-sized dairies, most of whom are injecting
their cows with this cruel and dangerous drug.

In a 1998 survey by Family Farm Defenders, it was found that mortality
rates for cows on factory dairy farms in Wisconsin, those injecting
their herds with rBGH, were running at 40% per year. In other words,
after two and a half years of rBGH injections most of these drugged
and supercharged cows were dead. Typically, dairy cows live for
15-20 years. Alarmed and revolted by rBGH, consumers have turned in
droves to organic milk and dairy products or to brands labeled as
rBGH-free. Nonetheless, use of the drug has continued to increase in
the US (and in nations like Brazil and Mexico) especially in large
dairy herds, so that currently 15% of America's 10 million lactating
dairy cows are being injected with rBGH. Compounding the problem of
rBGH contamination, most of the nation's 1500 dairy companies are
allowing the co-mingling of rBGH and non-rBGH milk, thereby
contaminating 80-90% of the nation's milk and dairy supply (including
all of the major infant formula brands). For a list of organic and
rBGH-free dairies in the US consult the Organic Consumers Association
(OCA) website.

The major reason that rBGH is still on the market is that it is not
labeled. Supermarket dairy managers, following guidelines circulated
by the rBGH and biotech lobby, routinely lie to consumers, telling
them either that rBGH is not in their products, or that there's no way
to tell, and reassuring them that the FDA has certified that rBGH is
safe. Of course, every survey conducted since 1994 shows that if
consumers were given a choice, they would boycott rBGH-tainted
products. When Vermont passed a mandatory labeling law for
rBGH-derived dairy products in 1994, the rBGH lobby (led by
Kraft/Phillip Morris and the International Dairy Foods Association)
sued Vermont in federal court, forcing the state to rescind the law.
When many US natural food stores, consumer coops, and dairies began
advertising their products as rBGH-free, Monsanto's attorneys sent out
thousands of letters to these businesses, threatening to sue them.
Eventually Monsanto did sue two dairies, one in Iowa and another in
Texas, but was forced to settle out of court.

Responding to the global controversy surrounding the drug, Monsanto
put BGH for sale in 1998, but there were no takers. Transnational PR
firms working with the biotech industry have categorized Monsanto's
handling of the rBGH controversy as a "public relations disaster." Now
this public relations disaster has come back to haunt the
fastest-growing brand name in the global food and beverage industry,
Starbucks.

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