Although banned in most other industrialized nations due to the health risks to humans and harm to the animals, Monsanto’s genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) is still injected into dairy cows in the US to increase milk-production.
Milk from rBGH-treated cows has much higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone considered to be a high risk factor for breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers.
So why was rBGH approved? The approval of rBGH in our country is a story of fired whistleblowers, manipulated research, and a corporate takeover of the US Food and Drug Administration. US dairies, responding to the health concerns of consumers by not injecting their herds, now battle for their right to label their milk as rBGH-free. For those familiar with the history of this controversial drug, and Monsanto, this is no surprise. Monsanto’s past is plagued with toxic disasters, lawsuits and cover-ups.
The good news is that most US dairies don’t use it. Look for any of the following on package label claims: Organic, No Artificial Hormones, No rBGH, No rBST, No Bovine Growth Hormone. If the dairy product does not make that statement, we encourage you to call or email them and ask if they use the drug. If not, ask them to make an on-package statement.
The Health Hazards in Milk from Cows Injected with rBGH
Milk from rBGH-treated cows has much higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone considered to be a high risk factor for breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers. IGF-1 levels in milk from treated cows with rBGH can be up to 10 times higher. Studies suggest that pre-menopausal women below 50 years old with high levels of IGF-1 are seven times more likely to develop breast cancer. Men are four times more likely to develop prostate cancer. IGF-1 is implicated in lung and colon cancer.
Milk from rBGH-treated cows with its heightened IGF-1 levels also likely increases the rate of fraternal twin births in humans. In the United States, the number of fraternal twins grew at twice the rate as that in the United Kingdom, where rBGH is banned.
Milk from cows injected with rBGH also has lowered nutritional value, increased antibiotics and more pus from infected udders. Cows given rBGH experience higher rates of mastitis, a painful udder infection. When treated with antibiotics that are also used for people, bacteria resistant to these antibiotics end up in the milk, air, soil and water, resulting in increased antibiotic resistance in humans, a major health problem.
Labels that Lie
Within the US, many school systems have banned milk products from injected cows and dairies have refused to inject their cow with it. But a milk carton from Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy stating, “Our Farmers’ Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones” became the subject of controversy when on July 3, 2003 the dairy was sued by Monsanto over their labels. Oakhurst eventually settled, agreeing to add a sentence saying that according to the FDA no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from [rBGH]-treated and non- treated cows. But it’s a statement that is not true. Both Monsanto and FDA scientists had acknowledged the increase of IGF-1 in milk from treated cows. Higher amounts of pus and antibiotic residues in the milk were noted as well. This misleading addition to the label was written by the FDA’s deputy commissioner of policy, Michael Taylor, as a recommended, but not required on-package clarification for products that make a No rBGH statement. Michael Taylor was previously Monsanto’s outside attorney who, after running policy at the FDA, became vice president of Monsanto.
Bribes, Fired Scientists and Corporate Hijacking of the FDA and Health Canada
In the late 1980s, one FDA scientist was fired after expressing concerns about possible health problems related to rBGH-treated cows. Other like-minded FDA scientists at the FDA had been stripped of responsibilities or forced out. Remaining FDA whistle-blowers had to write an anonymous letter to Congress, complaining of fraud and conflict of interest at the agency. In 1998, six Canadian government scientists testified before their Senate that they were being pressured by superiors to approve rBGH, even though they believed it was unsafe. They also testified that documents were stolen from a locked file cabinet and that Monsanto offered them a bribe of $1-2 million to approve the drug. Monsanto responded to the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) story about the alleged bribe, claiming that the scientists misunderstood an offer for research money. (In another part of the world in 2005, Monsanto was fined for offering bribes to 140 Indonesians, as the company tried to gain approval for their genetically modified cotton.)
Muscling the Media—Fox News Intimidated
In 1989, Monsanto’s PR firm created “the Dairy Coalition,” a group that included researchers funded by Monsanto, to pressure editors of the USA Today, Boston Globe, New York Times and others, to stop reporting on the health concerns about rBGH.The potential link between rBGH and cancer was one of the topics revealed in a four-part news series set to air in February of 1997 by a Tampa-based Fox TV station. Just before the series was to air, however, Fox received threatening letters from Monsanto’s attorney, threatening “dire consequences for Fox News.” The show was postponed indefinitely. The reporters who had created the series later testified that they were offered hush money to leave the station and never speak about the story again. They declined.
Jeffrey Smith, founder of IRT, obtained a version of the news series that was used as an exhibit in a trial–thus it was public domain. He integrated the best portions of the series into an 18 minute video he directed called Your Milk on Drugs–Just Say No! You can watch it here.
Progress and New Battles
Several years ago, several organizations worked to raise awareness of the rBGH issue, including IRT and the Campaign For Safe Food launched by the Oregon Chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Getting attention to the rBGH issue was slow at first, but by educating consumers about the health dangers associated with rBGH and producers making rBGH-free brands readily available, we have seen a widespread consumer demand for rBGH free dairy products. More than 10 years ago, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Kroger, and about 40 of the 100 top dairies removed rBGH products as consumer concerns reached a tipping point on this issue.
Having failed to gain a complete ban on “rBGH-free” labeling from the FDA, Monsanto went to the state level by claiming the labels are an “unfair restraint of trade” even with the FDA disclaimer. Also, in an effort to turn public opinion their way, Monsanto tried to promote rBGH as having a positive effect on the environment. The reality is that rBGH is anything but green.
As the rejection of rBGH expanded, Monsanto sold the drug to Elanco, the veterinary division of Ely Lilly. Ironically, Ely Lilly sells cancer drugs that may treat people who develop cancer after drinking milk from cows treated with their bovine growth hormone.