|Pusztai reviews What's In Your Milk? (9/4/2007)|
1.Dr Arpad Pusztai's review of Dr Epstein's book What's In Your Milk?
NOTE: Dr. Arpad Pusztai is a world-renowned nutritional scientist and expert on the safety of genetically modified foods, who has published over 300 primary scientific papers. Dr. Epstein is professor emeritus of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and the recipient of multiple awards, including the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal "for Humanitarianism, and International Contributions to Cancer Prevention."
1.A review of Dr Samuel S. Epstein's book What's In Your Milk?
Dr Epstein's new book, "What's In Your Milk?," describes and discusses in detail the scientific, and human and veterinary safety issues arising out of the use by Monsanto of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in milk production. Despite the well-known considerable difficulties of obtaining financial support for independent studies into the safety of any genetically engineered (GE) product, be it GE food, and GE or cloned meat, Dr Epstein's thesis is well-documented and supported by a large number of academic studies published in peer-reviewed science journals. In short his points are as follows:
*Natural bovine growth hormone, BGH and the various commercial recombinant rBGHs are chemically and immunologically different.
*rBGH milk is chemically and nutritionally different from normal milk and, amongst other things, contains more long-chain fatty acids and less casein protein and can be contaminated with pus, antibiotics, and other chemicals, etc.
*Milk from cows injected with rBGH contains some of the recombinant hormone which, at least in part, can be absorbed from the gut into the blood circulation of consumers with possible, but at present unknown, physiological effects that should need further extensive studies to elucidate.
*There is overwhelming evidence to show that milk from cows injected with rBGH contains elevated levels of the potent growth factor IGF1 that is readily taken up from the gut into the systemic circulation where, according to some evidence, is suggested to be implicated in the development of tumors in breast, colon and prostate tissues and in blocking apoptosis of transformed cells; thus counteracting a natural defence mechanism in cancer.
*Injection of cows with rBGH increases the development of adverse veterinary effects, such as mastitis with a need for medication with antibiotics and other chemicals some of which contaminate the milk from these cows and/or the frequently observed digestive and reproductive disorders, including reduced fertility, that are now fully or partly acknowledged to occur by Monsanto and the FDA.
*Most of these points are not only confirmed by published studies but they are also corroborated by Monsanto's own studies as described in a batch of confidential files to the FDA that were leaked to Dr Epstein anonymously in October 1989.
In addition to describing the ins-and-outs of the safety of rBGH milk, one of the prominent and nowadays unfortunately commonplace scientific controversies arising out of the involvement of industrial and business interests in what used to be mainly scientific issues, Dr Epstein's book has very strong social, political and ethical messages for scientists and also for the general public. Dr Epstein very commendably gives fully all the arguments, pro- and contra, that appear to support the respective cases of the opposing sides in the controversial issue of the safety for human consumption, animal health and other pertinent issues associated with the use of rBGH-treated cows, their milk and meat.
However, those not directly immersed in the scientific issues of rBGH milk and who are not familiar with the published papers cited in support of safety may not find it easy to apportion what weight, if any, to attach to the scientific value, strength and validity of the publications referred to. Although it may not surprise those scientists who are familiar with such controversies and who have themselves been financed by commercial money that in some of the industrial responses to Dr Epstein's charges concerning the possible dangers of the rBGH technology, the references are not always what they appear to be.
For example, in the "Previously Unpublished Industry Response from Cyanamid" (August 16, 1989, pp. 56-63) it is said: "His (i.e. Dr Epsteins) allegations are unsubstantiated and ignore the fact that results of this research (i.e. supporting the industry's case) are "published in peer-reviewed journals which are subjected to intensive scrutiny by the scientific community at large." One would therefore expect that the Cyanamid authors to support their case quoted mainly peer-reviewed papers. In fact, most of what purported to be peer-reviewed papers were abstracts or short resumes of talks given at conferences. Thus, to rebut Dr Epstein's thesis on negative energy balance in rBGH-treated cows all five references cited were conference communications. Or to discredit Dr Epstein's allegation of increased incidence of infectious diseases, one of the papers cited in the text was not given in the reference list, two were conference pieces and one was a general paper not directly pertinent to the rebuttal. Again, on the questionable efficacy of milk hormones the authors quoted four papers, all of which were conference reports. And so on!
Although this finding does not necessarily question their validity, it is disappointing that the authors' arguments were not based on more peer-reviewed publications that are "subjected to intensive scrutiny by the scientific community". Unfortunately, the FDA scientists' response to Dr Epstein's charges published in Science (vol. 249, pp. 875-884, 1990) has also been rather disappointing. Apart from the fact that the paper contains little, if any, direct clinical evidence to support the claimed human safety of rBGH-milk or meat, practically all the work cited comes from previously unpublished confidential industry studies on animals (all in all 16 references) with very little independent work supporting their results. One would expect in such a scientific, and even more importantly, public health controversy that reliance should not be based only or mainly on research by scientists working for the very industry that is to commercialise the product.
Should some readers regard the rBGH story, for the want of a better expression, as a showcase for scientists squabbling amongst themselves about a topic only interesting to them, they would be quite mistaken. The book is exciting reading for all. It vividly describes the developing story and controversy between the antagonists with all the turns of an exciting detective novel. Every trick in the book by the industry is illustrated, particularly the shenanigans of Monsanto in cohoots with the FDA and the US administration, aided and abetted by the "revolving door" between official and industry personnel, setting up hit-squads to discredit "awkward" scientists, putting out misleading or false information in the press, suppressing nationally and internationally relevant scientific information on safety, or the lack of it, of their product, leaning on political, regulatory and other bodies, committees and organizations and putting pressure on their personnel, just to name a few of the strategies used.
That, after all, the Monsantos of this world still fail in this case is due to Dr Epstein's persistence, scientific track record and international standing, his hard detective work and unflagging drive to get to the truth in the unfailing belief that it is the duty of an honest scientist to serve the public. This is a great book and one which all other books in the field of genetic engineering will be measured against.
2.Milk flows freely
The family members who own Lochmead Dairy and Dari-Mart stores offer a simple explanation for why they never used artificial hormones to boost milk production: Their cows don't need it, and their customers don't want it.
"We sell milk directly to customers," Lochmead president Jock Gibson once said. "We know damn well and good they don't want it."
In recent years, the Junction City dairy has watched as a growing number of dairies in Oregon and Washington - Tillamook, Umpqua, Darigold, Wilcox Farms, Alpenrose - have taken the same path. The Pacific Northwest dairies are at the forefront of what has now become a national movement away from artificial hormones in dairy products.
Consumer preference is driving those dairies away from recombinant bovine growth hormone, known as rBGH or rBST, made by Monsanto Co. and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993. The artificial hormone, which mimics the cow's natural hormones, boosts milk production by 10 to 15 percent.
The latest dairy to reject rBGH is also the biggest: California Dairies Inc., which ships 14 billion pounds of milk each year, accounting for 8 percent of all liquid milk shipped in the United States.
The Fresno-based cooperative told its member farmers last month that it would no longer accept milk from cows treated with the artificial hormone.
Members who decided to keep using rBGH would have to pay a premium to cover the co-op's cost of shipping the milk to alternative markets.
"We're merely responding to our customers' demands and we've gotten very strong support," said Richard Cotta, the co-op's CEO.
A Monsanto spokesman, Andrew Burchett, said, "It's a concern when U.S. farmers are denied access to approved technologies that are going to help them make money. It's also a concern that milk that is no different is being disparaged by deceptive marketing."
Richard North, a project director for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has been waging a national campaign against rBGH for more than three years, said California Dairies Inc.'s sheer size means its decision on artificial hormone will have a ripple effect in the industry.
Consumers, North said, are "voting with their dollars. ... The dairies that continue to allow this are losing market share and they know it.
"The more milk brands that go rBGH-free and label it, that puts more pressure on other dairies that are not rBGH-free to do the same," he said.
Most Oregon dairies already have gone that route, North said. Some produce milk without rBGH, but still use it for other dairy products, he said.
Umpqua Dairy in Roseburg stopped buying milk from farmers who use rBGH about four years ago, said Steve Feldkamp, chief operating officer.
"It's really consumer driven," he said. "Consumers are telling us they don't want to have any possibility of (an artificial) hormone in our milk, so we listened to our consumers."
(Dairies can't say their milk is "hormone-free" because cow's milk contains natural hormones.)
Tillamook Country Creamery Association, the co-op that makes Tillamook brand cheese and ice cream and whose members account for about half of dairy production in Oregon, began phasing out rBGH in the milk it uses to make cheese in 2004.
Tillamook spokesman Mark Wustenberg said in a statement that the decision was "based mainly on what we were learning from our consumers through market research, customer and consumer comments, market trends and buying habits." He said co-op officials believe there continues to be "significant concern" on the part of consumers about rBGH.
Pacific Northwest dairies may be at the forefront in rejecting rBGH, but they're not alone. Dairies in New England, Texas, New Jersey and Montana also have stopped using the artificial hormone, North said. And rBGH is banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union.
The artificial hormone is under attack on other fronts as well.
In January, Starbucks, which uses milk products in its coffee drinks, announced that it was asking its dairy suppliers to move toward products that were rBGH-free.
In Oregon, all the milk used at Starbucks is produced without the hormone, a spokeswoman said.
Safeway has phased out milk with rBGH from its stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, Montana and Pennsylvania, spokeswoman Bridget Flanagan said. By the end of this year, all 1,800 Safeway stores will sell only rBGH-free milk, she said.
The preference for milk without rBGH comes as Americans in general are paying more attention to what they put in their mouths. For example, sales of organic foods in the United States have increased from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $12 billion in 2004 - an average increase of 29 percent a year, according to the Food Marketing Institute.
"There definitely is a trend for consumers to want healthier foods," North said.
Physicians for Social Responsibility estimates rBGH is used in 15 to 20 percent of dairy cows nationwide, and about 10 percent in Oregon.
Consumers are demanding dairy products made without artificial hormones, even though scientific evidence about whether it poses a risk to human health is inconclusive.
The FDA and Monsanto say milk produced by cows treated with rBGH is perfectly safe and indistinguishable from milk produced without the hormone. Critics such as North say there's evidence that it could cause cancer, although such evidence is inconclusive.
Lochmead Dairy never made a big deal about its decision not to use rBGH, and only started making note of it on its labels about a year ago, said Kim Gibson, the general manager.
"We decided to start labeling it because we were receiving calls almost daily requesting the information," she said. "We never thought we were special for what we don't do.
"We've focused more of our energy on producing good milk."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.