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Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and Milk. Martin Donohoe Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility Campaign for Safe Food. The Precautionary Principle.

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recombinant bovine growth hormone rbgh and milk

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and Milk

Martin Donohoe

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

Campaign for Safe Food

the precautionary principle
The Precautionary Principle

When evidence points toward the potential of an activity to cause significant, widespread or irreparable harm to public health or the environment, options for avoiding that harm should be examined and pursued, even though the harm is not yet fully understood or proven.

the precautionary principle3
The Precautionary Principle
  • Give human and environmental health the benefit of doubt.
  • Include appropriate public participation in the discussion.
  • Gather unbiased scientific, technological and socioeconomic information.
  • Consider less risky alternatives.
recombinant bovine growth hormone rbgh
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
  • aka recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST), brand name Posilac©
  • Used to increase milk production by cattle
  • rBGH raises levels of Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) in cows and cows’ milk
  • IGF-1 survives pasteurization and gastric digestion (due to casein protein in milk)
  • 10-15% of U.S. dairy cows injected with rBGH
  • May increase costs to dairy farms
  • Increases growth rate of cattle, which require increased protein feed
  • Marketed primarily to large dairy farms, which are supplanting small dairy farms
    • Worse environmental impact records
    • Higher rates of workplace injuries
    • Contribute to decreasing agricultural diversity
effects of rbgh
Effects of rBGH
  • Serum IGF-1 levels increase 10% above baseline in individuals drinking milk from rBGH-treated cattle
  • IGF-1 interacts with estrogens, androgens, and other growth promoters
  • Milk is the food most associated with high IGF-1 levels
  • IGF-1 not important in yogurt, since it is used as a food source by some of the bacteria responsible for yogurt production
risks of rbgh
Risks of rBGH
  • IGF-1 is a suspected contributor to breast, prostate and GI cancers
    • Promotes cell division and reduces apoptosis (preprogrammed cell death) in animals
    • Inhibits the ability of various anti-cancer drugs to kill cultured human breast cancer cells
  • Children, who have more years of life to live and drink more milk (and more milk per body weight) than adults, are disproportionately affected
risks of rbgh9
Risks of rBGH
  • Along with pesticides, other endocrine disruptors, and obesity, IGF-1 may be partly responsible for earlier onset of puberty (9.9 yrs in 2006, compared with 10.9 years in 1991)
harmful effects of rbgh
Harmful Effects of rBGH
  • FDA: rBGH causes 16 different harmful conditions in cattle, including heat stress, hoof disorders, GI disturbances, birth disorders, ovarian and uterine problems, and mastitis in cattle
    • Antibiotic treatment of mastitis leads to increased antibiotic resistance in cattle and humans
rbgh posilac
rBGH (Posilac©)
  • Developed and marketed by Monsanto
  • Sold to Elanco, a division of Eli Lilly, in 2008 for $300 million
    • Monsanto stock then rises 5%, while Eli Lilly’s drops 1%
  • Agent Orange, PCBs, dioxins DDT
  • Largest producer of genetically-modified seeds
    • Contamination events
    • Unethical experiments
    • Harassment of scientists
  • Pesticide Roundup used in “War on Drugs” in Colombia
  • Profitable
  • Member of corporate front groups fighting food safety legislation/organizations
  • Roger Beachy (long-time president of the Danforth Plant, Monsanto’s nonprofit arm) now chief of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, overseeing almost $500 million in grants and research funding
  • Islam Siddiqui, VP at CropLife America (US branch of CropLife International, an agribusiness front group led by Monsanto and others) nominated for position of Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the US Trade Representative’s Office
eli lilly
Eli Lilly
  • Paid record-setting settlement of $1.42 billion to US Justice Department for illegally marketing Zyprexa to children and elderly for non-FDA approved indications
  • Marketed DES for almost 2 decades despite data showing link between DES exposure in mothers and clear cell vaginal cancers in offspring
fda approval of rbgh
FDA Approval of rBGH
  • OK’d for use by FDA in 1993; on market since 1994
  • FDA official (and former Monsanto attorney) Michael Taylor oversaw process – became Monsanto VP after leaving FDA; now senior advisor to FDA Commissioner
fda approval of rbgh18
FDA Approval of rBGH
  • FDA relied on industry summary of internal tests
  • Several scientists in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine reported undue corporate influence that corrupted the science
fda approval of rbgh19
FDA Approval of rBGH
  • GAO investigation:
    • Found 3 FDA employees involved in decision had conflicts of interest and multiple ethics rules violations
    • Criticized sloppy, manipulative science, lack of data on human health effects
repressed information on rbgh
Repressed Information on rBGH
  • Fox News report on health risks repressed
  • One of the reporters awarded $425,000 by jury, which agreed that Fox “acted intentionally and deliberately to distort the plaintiffs news reporting on rBST.”
repressed information on rbgh21
Repressed Information on rBGH
  • Appeals court overturned verdict:
    • Whisteblower statute only protects people who threaten to report a violation of a law, rule, or regulation
    • Distorting TV news is not technically illegal
  • Reporters received Goldman Environmental Prize (“the Nobel Prize for the environment”)
rbgh worldwide
rBGH Worldwide
  • Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the European Union have banned rBGH
    • However, dairy products produced by rBGH-injected cattle can be imported into many of these nations
    • EU Food Safety Agency updates ban 2007
rbgh worldwide23
rBGH Worldwide
  • The Codex Alimentarius, the UN’s main food safety body, has refused to certify rBGH as safe
  • Economic/trade consequences for U.S. farmers using rBGH
public opinion and economics re rbgh
Public Opinion and Economics re rBGH
  • Consumers increasingly aware of rBGH
  • 80% of consumers want labeling
  • Most willing to pay more for milk free of artificial hormones
public opinion and economics re rbgh25
Public Opinion and Economics re rBGH
  • Many dairies and milk product brands have gone rBGH-free, as have all four major Portland, OR hospital systems (for fluid milk) and over 160 hospitals nationwide
  • Price for organic/rBGH-free milk products decreasing, especially in markets where most producers have gone rBGH-free (e.g., OR, WA, ME, and most parts of CA)
public opinion re rbgh
Public Opinion re rBGH
  • “We’re not aware of any consumer demand for [an rBGH-free] product.” – Kevin Holloway, Monsanto, Capital Press (Salem, OR), Feb. 2, 2007.
public opinion re rbgh27
Public Opinion re rBGH
  • “Our customers' increasing interest in their health and wellness is the basis for our decision [to begin requiring certification that our milk is from cows not treated with rbST].’” – William Boehm, Senior Vice President – Kroger, Atlanta Journal – Constitution, Aug. 3, 2007.
public opinion re rbgh28
Public Opinion re rBGH
  • “When it comes to our decision to carry rBST-free milk, we are simply listening and responding to what our customers have asked for.” – Shannon Patten, Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, FL Ledger, June 10, 2007.
public opinion re rbgh29
Public Opinion re rBGH
  • “When Tillamook’s (rBGH-free cheese) policy became public, we received overwhelmingly supportive feedback. In just two weeks, more than 8,500 consumers contacted us, backing our policy.” – Jim McMullen, former Tillamook (OR) CEO, Cheese Market News, May 13, 2005.
rbgh and greenhouse gasses
rBGH and Greenhouse Gasses
  • Causes 10% increase in milk production, but:
    • May increase food costs
    • Increased greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, which contribute to global warming (per FDA, NAS, and EPA)
    • Treated cows burn out faster, slaughtered earlier
  • FDA turned down Monsanto’s request to label rBGH as feed-efficient (and therefore causing fewer greenhouse gas emissions)
another potential risk of rbgh use
Another potential risk of rBGH-use
  • rBGH increases growth rate of cattle, which require increased protein feed
    • One of the cheapest and most commonly-utilized forms of protein is other dead animals, via rendering
      • Mad Cow Disease
        • USDA can bar meatpackers from testing slaughtered cattle
other issues re rbgh and milk
Other Issues re rBGH and Milk
  • Scientific evidence shows that some of the purported benefits of milk may be false
  • Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are widely available, inexpensive, and contain 0 calories
  • Many non-Europeans are lactose-intolerant
other risks involving milk melamine
Other Risks Involving Milk:Melamine
  • Falsely elevates apparent protein content of milk, allowing milk to be watered-down
  • Nephrotoxic, by causing crystals to form in kidneys
  • 19 sentenced (including 2 – death penalty, 3 – life in prison)
  • 51,000+ children sickened in China (at least 6 deaths) in 2008/9
    • Melamine still found in many products sold imported from China
or psr campaign for safe food
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • rBGH:
    • Goal – discontinue the production of any dairy products from cows treated with rBGH
      • Oregon $600 million dairy industry
or psr campaign for safe food35
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • rBGH:
    • Grassroots education campaign so that citizens can make an informed choice
    • Oppose efforts by AFACT (Monsanto front group) and others to limit labeling at the state and federal level
      • 8 states have attempted to ban or restrict rBGH-free dairy labeling
      • Only OH has succeeded: currently under appeal
or psr campaign for safe food36
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • All fluid milk products in Oregon now rBGH-free
  • 55 of the top 100 U.S. dairies are now at least partially rBGH-free or have announced that they will be
or psr campaign for safe food37
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • Tillamook cheese (2nd largest producer in U.S. after Kraft) now rBGH-free
  • Fred Meyer, Eberhard, Alpenrose, Darigold, Yoplait, Meadow Gold, TG Lee, Velda milk products rBGH-free
or psr campaign for safe food38
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • Dean Foods (a few plants), Albertson’s, Publix, Trader Joes, and Safeway (fluid milk in No. CA and Pacific NW), and Darigold rBGH-free
  • Wal-Mart (store brand), Kroger (includes Fred Meyer, QF, Ralphs, and Smith’s markets) rBGH-free
  • California Dairies, Inc. (second largest US co-op) rBGH-free
or psr campaign for safe food39
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • Southwest Milk, Inc. (Florida’s largest co-op) rBGH-free
  • Dannon, General Mills phasing out rBGH products
  • Campina (Europe’s largest dairy producer) going rBGH-free
or psr campaign for safe food40
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • Lactaid rBGH-free
  • Starbucks company-owned stores rBGH-free (not franchises)
  • Subway, Chipotle Restaurants rBGH-free
  • Some schools going rBGH-free
opposition to rbgh
Opposition to rBGH
  • APHA
  • ANA
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • AMA President Ron Davis (’07-’08)
  • BMJ
opposition to rbgh42
Opposition to rBGH
  • ACS – no formal position (2009); previously supported rBGH
  • Humane Society
  • Animal Protection Institute
  • Humane Farming Association
  • Farm Sanctuary
or psr campaign for safe food43
OR PSR Campaign for Safe Food
  • rBGH-free milk
  • Organic milk
    • No rBGH or other added hormones, pesticides, or antibiotics
    • Contains more beneficial fatty acids
  • Sales of rBGH-free and organic milk increasing; demand high throughout U.S.; prices falling
what you can do
What You Can Do
  • Buy rBGH-free dairy products
  • Tell others about rBGH (schools, hospitals, churches, etc.)
  • Support APHA resolution calling for the precautionary avoidance of hormone growth promoters in beef and dairy cattle production
  • Sign up for email updates
  • Donate to food safety groups
psr campaign for safe food available resources
PSR Campaign for Safe Food: Available Resources
  • Fact Sheets on rBGH, biopharming, and food irradiation
  • rBGH-free Dairy Products Guide (milk and yogurt)
  • Survey data re consumer opinions on rBGH
  • Detailed scientific references
  • This presentation
psr campaign for safe food available resources46
PSR Campaign for Safe Food: Available Resources
  • Donohoe MT. Genetically-Modified Foods: Health and Environmental Risks and the Corporate Agribusiness Agenda. Z Magazine 2006 (December):35-40. Available at
  • Campaign for Safe Food, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility:
contact information
Contact Information

Public Health and Social Justice Website