For years our milkman (Alta Dena Dairy)
has been delivering "milk from cows not treated with rBST." You
mention rBGH in your book. What is the difference between these
two? Thanks for a great book.
Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) is another name for recombinant
Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).
By whatever name it's called, rBGH is a genetically engineered variant
of the natural growth hormone produced by cows. For some time, natural
bovine growth hormone (BGH) has been used to stimulate milk production
in cows. The hormone was too expensive for widespread use, however,
until Monsanto came up with a genetically altered hormone (called
rBGH or rBST). This genetically engineered hormone, sold by Monsanto
under the brand name Posilac, is now injected into more than a quarter
of the cows in U.S. dairies.
There is no controversy about whether rBGH increases milk production.
It does. But there are other points of contention. For one thing,
the need for the technology has been questioned, because since 1950
U.S. dairy farmers have been producing vastly more milk than Americans
can consume. In fact, in 1986-1987, the federal government paid
farmers to kill their cows and stop dairy farming for five years,
in an effort to reduce the amount of milk produced. More than 1.5
million U.S. milk cows were slaughtered. Even this drastic program,
however, did not solve the problem of milk overproduction in the
Another issue is that milk from cows that have been injected with
Monsanto's genetically engineered rBGH contains 2 to 10 times as
much IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) as normal cow's milk. This
is significant, because studies have found the risk of prostate
cancer for men over 60 years of age with high levels of IGF-1 to
be eight times greater than for men with low levels. And the risk
of breast cancer for premenopausal women with increased blood levels
of IGF-1 to be up to seven times greater.
Consultants paid by Monsanto say that milk from injected cows is
absolutely safe for human consumption because IGF-1 is destroyed
by pasteurization. FDA researchers, on the other hand, report that
IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization.
Monsanto also says the hormone is safe because IGF-1 is completely
broken down by digestive enzymes and does not enter the human intestinal
tract. But researchers not paid by Monsanto say that IGF-1 may not
be totally digested, and that some does make its way into the colon
and cross the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.
Meanwhile, cows treated with the genetically engineered hormone
have a 25 percent increase in udder infections (mastitis) and a
50 percent increase in lameness. To counter the health problems
among cows injected with rBGH, Monsanto suggests a greater use of
antibiotics. As it just so happens, the company also sells the very
antibiotics it recommends.
Polls show that American consumers overwhelmingly support the labeling
of milk produced with rBGH. But the FDA has said such labeling would
unfairly stigmatize rBGH milk as less healthy. The FDA official
responsible for this policy is Michael R. Taylor, whose occupation
prior to joining the FDA was as a partner in the law firm representing
Monsanto when it applied for FDA approval for rBGH. His employer
after he left the FDA, by the way, was Monsanto.
Monsanto's track record in these matters tends to be a tad shady.
During Canada's scientific review of Monsanto's application for
approval of rBGH, Canadian health officials said Monsanto tried
to bribe them, and government scientists testified that they were
being pressured by higher-ups to approve rBGH against their better
scientific judgment. Canada's policies have been almost as ardently
pro-biotech as those of the United States, but in 1999, Canadian
health authorities, after eight years of study, rejected Monsanto's
application for approval of rBGH. In so doing, Canada joined the
European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, all of whom have
banned rBGH because of scientific health concerns.
In the United States, however, milk produced with the genetically
engineered hormone is not only legal, it is also not labeled. And
it is not only not labeled, but Monsanto has fought to make it impossible
to reveal, truthfully, when it's not in milk.
When several companies that produced milk without rBGH, including
the Pure Milk Company of Waco, Texas, and Swiss Valley Farms of
Davenport, Iowa, factually advertised their milk as rBGH-free, Monsanto's
response was to sue these companies, forcing then to refrain from
telling their customers the truth.
Monsanto's actions and ensuing lawsuit represent a new twist in
libel litigation. For the first time, telling the truth was contended
to be objectionable. Monsanto claimed that a statement of actual
truth could be false advertising, because actual facts could induce
consumers to believe that Monsanto's product was less than exemplary,
and thereby cost the company money.
Currently, neither milk made with rBGH nor any other genetically
engineered food product in the United States, is labeled.