Bovine Growth Hormone,
The information on this website is presented for educational purposes
Monsanto to School Kids: Have a Nice Big Glass of Pus. On Us.
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is a genetically engineered drug injected into cows, which increases the levels of cancer causing and other dangerous chemicals in milk. Its manufacturer, the Monsanto Corporation, also manufactured the deadly Agent Orange.
Monsanto has been pushing farmers to inject cows with rBGH since 1994. Many small farms, however, continue to resist. Repeated injections of rBGH artificially stimulate cows to produce 10% to 25% more milk than normal, causing health problems for the cows and danger to consumers, especially kids, who drink rBGH milk or eat butter, ice cream, cheese or yogurt.
Although milk drawn from cows that have not been injected with rBGH is now widely available, New York public schools don't buy that milk. Instead, the Board of Education buys most of its daily 3/4 of a million half pints of milk from Tuscan, whose suppliers inject their cows with the genetically engineered hormone. Monsanto has been fighting against consumer demands to require labels on genetically engineered products.
In mid April of 1997, the New York City Board of Education responded for the first time to public outcry over the use of genetically engineered hormones in school milk by announcing that, despite the protests, it will continue to buy milk and dairy products from companies that inject their cows with genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone. “The FDA has given us assurances milk is safe if it contains this growth hormone,” said Board spokesperson David Golub. “This is a non issue.”
But Golub, the Board he represents, the FDA, and the Monsanto Corporation (which manufactures the genetically engineered hormone), are lying to us; the milk is NOT safe. And it is banned in Europe and Canada.
rBGH derived milk contains dramatically higher levels of IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor), a risk factor for breast and colon cancer. IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization. An article in “Cancer Research,” June 1995, shows that high levels of IGF-1 are also linked to hypertension, premature growth stimulation in infants, gynecomastia in young children, glucose intolerance and juvenile diabetes.
Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and chair of Cancer Prevention Coalition, Inc., reports that IGF-1, which causes cells to divide, induces malignant transformation of normal breast epithelial cells, and is a growth factor for human breast cancer and colon cancer. Yet rBGH was never adequately tested before the Food and Drug Administration allowed it on the market. A standard test of new biochemically produced products and animal drugs requires twenty four months of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short term rat study was submitted to the FDA but never published. The FDA had refused to allow anyone outside that agency to review the raw data from this truncated study, saying it would “irreparably harm” Monsanto.
In 1998, Canadian scientists managed to obtain the full studies for the first time. They were shocked to learn that the FDA never even looked at Monsanto's original data on which the agency's approval had been based. In reviewing the data, the Canadian scientists discovered that Monsanto's secret studies showed that rBGH was linked to prostate and thyroid cancer in laboratory rats. Monsanto had actually cut the study short and omitted any mention of the cancers in their report to the FDA -- or so the agency now says! And so, a few companies which had invested hundreds of millions of dollars developing a product having absolutely no consumer benefit and which poses a severe health risk, was able to foist its dangerous product on an unprotected populace with the help of the government.
All this has outraged Green Party organizer Maris Abelson: “Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) increases levels of cancer causing hormones and other dangerous chemicals in milk. It was the first genetically engineered drug to be widely marketed through the food supply, and the few long term studies that have been done raise serious questions about its safety. We've got to stop it, now.”
Abelson urges every concerned New Yorker to call the Board of Education today: (718) 729-6100. Tell them, “Stop buying from Tuscan. Purchase milk and other dairy products only from companies that do not use rBGH, and that are, preferably, organic.”
What's All the Ruckus?
The Monsanto Corporation, manufacturer of rBGH (also known as BST and Posilac), has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in biotechnology development. It insists that IGF-1 levels are not elevated in milk from rBGH treated cows and that rBGH is perfectly safe. “Satisfied customers across the United States, many with three years experience, attest to the product's safety. Further, the FDA confirms that no unusual or unexpected concerns about cow or human safety have been raised since Posilac's introduction.” But Monsanto's own studies refute that position. In its 1993 application to the British government for permission to sell rBGH in England, Monsanto itself reported that “the IGF-1 levels went up substantially [about five times as much].”
The U.S. FDA acknowledges that IGF-1 is elevated in milk from rBGH treated cows. Even proponents of rBGH admit that it at least doubles the amount of IGF-1 hormone in the milk. The earliest report in the literature found that IGF 1 was elevated in the milk of rBGH treated cows by a factor of 3.6. How could the company honestly assert there have been “no unusual or unexpected concerns”?
The mass outpouring of protests and growing technical data indicate otherwise; clearly, the company intentionally lied about rBGH and falsified its reports to recover its investment.
Since 1994, Monsanto has been pushing every which way to get farmers to inject rBGH into their cows. Bi-weekly injections of rBGH cause an increase in the amount of milk cows produce on average from 10% to 25%. The market is flooded with too much milk as it is, enabling middle men to pay farmers below their costs, bankrupting dairy farms in record numbers while retail prices remain around the same. (This, of course, enables agribusiness giants to purchase their farms at a song.) Some farmers have even felt compelled to kill their cows because it cost them more to feed and maintain the animals than they'd gotten back in sales.
With the addition of rBGH, small farmers are caught between a rock and a hard place. They know that the so called “extra” money they're promised for squeezing more milk out of each cow with rBGH is a delusion. The market is already glutted. How could increasing the total volume of milk possibly help them compete with giant agribusiness conglomerates who can afford lower prices per gallon or even go into debt for a time and absorb the cost of antibiotics to treat the increased instances of diseases such as mastitis brought on by rBGH and more frequent replacement of their cows to win a larger share of the market?
Monsanto has no sensible answer. Instead, it swings its mighty stick: Fear. “Soon everyone else will be using rBGH.” It's like any new machine employed in production. It will lower the price of milk even more, and increase the quantity. If you don't use it, you'll go bankrupt. But, and here's the carrot, “if you start using rBGH now, before everyone else, you'll get the jump and do all right.”
That's quite a powerful “argument” -- the threat of bankruptcy and the looming shadow of bank foreclosure. To counter it, Green activists have joined dairy farmers and other local consumer groups in coalitions across the country to stop Monsanto from achieving the “critical mass” it needs to apply its new genetic engineering techniques to milk production. Once Monsanto reaches that point, farmers fear, they will be driven by market forces to use any means available -- including rBGH -- to increase the amount of milk their cows produce just to chase the ghost of breaking even as the wholesale price plummets.
Is rBGH Safe for Cows?
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is like “crack” for cows. Bi weekly shots “rev” up their system and force them to produce more milk for perhaps a few years, and then their milk production declines dramatically. rBGH also makes them sick.
Their udders swell and develop painful, bloody lesions -- an infection known as “mastitis,” which is “treated” by giving cows huge doses of antibiotics. The cows suffer through shortened lifespans and increased birth defects, rates of metabolic disease, infertility and stress.
What's more, there's pus in the milk. Farmers must buy heavy doses of antibiotics to treat rBGH cows' frequent infections, which occur seven times as often in cows treated with rBGH than in those who are untreated, last six times as long, and leak pus, blood, bacteria and increased levels of antibiotic residues into the milk. Shockingly, the very companies that produce rBGH add to their profits by manufacturing antibiotics and tranquilizers which they then sell to dairy farmers to combat the side effects -- which end up in the milk. High levels of antibiotics passed along to the mother or to children could impair the development of the immune system in children, cause the growth of resistant strains of bacteria and viruses, and lead to serious health problems.
High School students at a “No rBGH” parade and rally in Brooklyn in February 1997, organized by the Brooklyn Greens, were quick to point out that they were moved to participate upon learning of increased levels of pus in rBGH milk. Some of the students altered Dairy Council ads, and made signs out of them. Instead of “Got Milk?,” the signs read “Got Pus?” Ben & Jerry's donated free non rBGH ice cream for the protest.
Cows into Cannibals
The use of rBGH intensifies the already unhealthy confinement of animals in industrial scale dairy production.
Factory farming of animals is immoral; some cows spend their whole lives tethered to machines. Increasingly, they're viewed as “units of production” instead of sentient beings. Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight, lost 75 percent of his herd due to the injections while Monsanto and company funded researchers at the University of Florida withheld from him the information that the same thing was happening to other farmers and their herds. Knight says Monsanto and the university researchers blamed him for the high death rate.
Even in death -- which, in general, comes earlier to rBGH injected cows -- the animals are seen as part of the machine, the “production process.” In recent years the industry has taken to “rendering” animal carcasses, which means grinding up dead and often diseased cows into animal feed and other meat products. (Some ad agencies have added their own “spin” on the practice, calling it “recycling.”) Approximately 40% of the “rendered” beef is used to make hamburgers. The rest is mixed into cow feed, along with sheep brains and other “rendered” animal parts. Cows, like many animals, are by nature vegetarian.
Turning cows into cannibals is gruesome enough. But now, with meat being derived from diseased rBGH treated cows, each burger or bucket of feed contains an increased proportion of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, viruses, bacteria, and chemicals. The ratio intensifies each time around the cycle of death.
The situation is compounded by genetically engineered hormones. rBGH injected cows require more protein than normal. So they consume even more rendered meat in their feed, which concentrates the amounts of synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals even further.
Just a short time after this practice became widespread, health officials began to notice a dramatic increase in the rate of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- “mad cow” disease -- which is caused by “prions” found in diseased and waste animal body parts, offal and blood. Prions cause infected cattle to literally develop holes in their brains, suffer seizures, fall down and die. Recent studies indicate that mad cow disease is linked to the devastating Creutzfeldt Jakob disease in humans.
A prion is a form of protein having the normal chemical composition but is shaped differently. When it comes into contact with normally constructed proteins it causes them to relapse into the deformed shape, triggering a chain reaction. Prions are able to withstand severe heat, such as pasteurization and even irradiation. There is no known way to defuse them. They may incubate for 30 years, and are passed to humans who eat meat from sick cows, regardless of how well one cooks the meat.
The U.S. government, of course, maintains that no BSE infected cattle have been discovered in the U.S. But, as Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn write, the disease may have appeared in the U.S. before the outbreak in England. “Richard Marsh, a veterinary scientist at the University of Wisconsin, was raising the alarm about BSE in American cattle back in 1985. Marsh discovered an outbreak of spongiform encephalopathy at a mink farm in Wisconsin. The mink had been fed a protein supplement made from rendered cows that had supposedly died from `downer cow syndrome.' Marsh believes the cows had actually succumbed to a previously undetected form of BSE.” Around 100,000 cows a year die from downer cow syndrome in the U.S. Most of these dead cows are rendered into protein supplements to feed other cattle. As Cockburn and St. Claire see it, “if this is true, the U.S. cattle population may already be infected with BSE and American meat consumers may have already contracted CJD.
All of this has severe environmental and economic as well as health consequences. Groundwater becomes even more polluted as mutated, drug resistant viruses, fungus, and bacteria develop in response to the increased use of antibiotics and genetically engineered chemicals and, through waste run off -- often used as fertilizer -- enter the water supply and soil.
Ever greater quantities of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic chemicals are applied to the land to deal with the new strains of resistant germs, blights and diseases, further contaminating soil and water. These are manufactured by the very companies that produce rBGH and other genetically engineered products. So are the antibiotics and tranquilizers sold to dairy farmers to combat the “side effects” of rBGH. For Monsanto, as with other corporations, the name of the game is profits, profits at any cost.