|Monsanto fumes over milk labels (21/4/2007)|
1.Monsanto fumes over milk labeled as hormone-free
EXTRACTS: Samuel Epstein... argues that rBGH milk makes cows sick, is contaminated by pus and antibiotics, is nutritionally and chemically different than natural milk, is supercharged with IGF and poses dangers without any benefits, especially given the national milk surplus.
Until we know more, there's no reason milk labels shouldn't be able to say, "From cows not treated with rBGH." (item 1)
1. Monsanto fumes over milk labeled as hormone-free
In the United States, the milk products you eat and drink might come from cows that have been given an artificial growth hormone called rBGH. Or they could be produced by animals that have not been treated with the genetically engineered "supplement."
Should dairy producers who shun the synthetic hormone be allowed to label their products "rBGH-free?"
This is the crux of a battle between biotech giant Monsanto, the producer of the hormone, and an increasing number of dairy producers choosing not to use it.
In letters to the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, Monsanto complained that labels promoting rBGH-free milk are misleading consumers into thinking that rBGH milk is somehow inferior to milk from cows not treated with the hormone.
The corporation apparently is concerned that consumers are being duped by unsavory marketing practices and paying too much for rBGH-free milk. In fact, the hormone, used to increase milk production by about 10 percent, received FDA approval in 1993. It's both safe and virtually undetectable in milk products, according to the FDA.
But no long-term studies have been done, and some experts contend that high levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) found in rBGH raise the risk of breast, colon and prostate cancers.
Samuel Epstein, author of "What's in Your Milk" (Trafford Publishing, $24.95), argues that rBGH milk makes cows sick, is contaminated by pus and antibiotics, is nutritionally and chemically different than natural milk, is supercharged with IGF and poses dangers without any benefits, especially given the national milk surplus.
Some companies do go too far. Kleinpeter Dairy's statement that "many people believe that rBGH causes premature puberty in children" isn't backed by evidence. But cows don't need the synthetic hormone, and consumers don't seem to want it. Until we know more, there's no reason milk labels shouldn't be able to say, "From cows not treated with rBGH."
2.The melee over milk labels
At the supermarket you'll find eggs from vegetarian-fed hens and apples grown without the use of pesticides. Or you can buy regular old eggs and apples. But you get the information you need to make your choice.
If St. Louis-based agribusiness giant Monsanto has its way, though, you'll have less information at the supermarket. You'll be denied the option of choosing milk from cows that haven't been given an artificially engineered growth hormone.
Earlier this month, Monsanto filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The claim: that the no-growth-hormone labels some dairies attach to their milk are misleading and "result in higher milk prices for consumers and less choice for dairy farmers."
Monsanto wants those labels removed.
If only the key issues here were milk prices and farmers' choice. The bigger issue, it seems, is the protection of Monsanto's profits.
Since its approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration in 1993, artificially engineered growth hormone, known as rBGH, rBST or Posilac, has been used by farmers to increase milk production by about 10 percent. Monsanto, as the primary producer of this hormone, has profited from this use. But in recent years, more and more dairies have begun asking their farmers to refrain from using the hormone and adding labels to their products to reflect the shift.
These labels, Monsanto claims, imply that milk produced with the aid of its hormone products is unsafe. It says the FDA has found no difference between milk produced by cows treated with growth hormone and milk produced by those left untreated. And in fact, the Illinois Department of Public Health requires dairy products that claim to be produced without rBGH to also include the FDA's exculpatory information about growth hormone. As if to say: Our cows didn't get growth hormone, but it wouldn't matter if they did.
That message should suffice. The dairies' labels should be allowed to stay.
The use of artificial growth hormone in dairy cows may not have any deleterious effects on human health. But milk produced with the help of artificial hormones contains elevated amounts of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which some studies have shown to raise the risk of various cancers. That said, no direct link has been established between the IGF-1 found in milk produced with the help of an artificial hormone and increased cancer rates.
It's worth noting that the perceived safety of a drug or chemical compound can change over time. Example: Some people now choose to avoid plastics manufactured with bisphenol-A, which has been in wide use for decades, because some studies have linked it to cancer, obesity and diabetes. The products remain on the market and are generally viewed as safe even for use in the manufacture of baby bottles and breast pumps. To buy or not to buy? That choice remains where it should be, with the buying public.
Consumers deserve the same level of choice when it comes to milk purchases.
Monsanto has every right to protect its profits. But not at the expense of consumers' right to know.