Seven years ago, Feb. 4, 1994,
despite nationwide protests by consumer groups, Monsanto and the FDA forced
onto the US market the world's first GE animal drug, recombinant Bovine
Growth Hormone (rBGH, sometimes known as rBST).
BGH is a powerful GE drug produced
by Monsanto which, injected into dairy cows, forces them to produce 15%-25%
more milk, in the process seriously damaging their health and reproductive
Despite warnings from scientists,
such as Dr. Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union and Dr. Samuel Epstein
from the Cancer Prevention Coalition, that milk from rBGH injected cows
contains substantially higher amounts of a potent cancer tumor promoter
called IGF-1, and despite evidence that rBGH milk contains higher levels
of pus, bacteria, and antibiotics, the FDA gave the hormone its seal of
approval, with no real pre-market safety testing required.
Moreover, the FDA ruled, in
a decision marred by rampant conflict of interest (several key FDA decision
makers, including Michael Taylor, previously worked for Monsanto), that
products did not have to be labeled, despite polls showing that 90% of
American consumers wanted labeling -- mainly
so they could avoid buying rBGH-tainted products.
All of the major criticisms
leveled against rBGH have turned out to be true. Since
1994, every industrialized country in the world, except for the US, has
banned the drug.
In 1998, Canadian government
scientists revealed that Monsanto's own data on feeding rBGH to rats,
carefully concealed by the company and the FDA, indicated possible cancer
dangers to humans.
Since rBGH was approved, approximately
40,000 small and medium-sized US dairy farmers, 1/3 of the total in the
country, have gone out of business, concentrating milk production in the
hands of industrial-sized dairies, most of whom are injecting their cows
with this cruel and dangerous drug.
In a 1998 survey by Family
Farm Defenders, it was found that mortality rates for cows on factory
dairy farms in Wisconsin, those injecting their herds with rBGH, were
running at 40% per year. In other words, after
two and a half years of rBGH injections most of these drugged and supercharged
cows were dead.
Typically, dairy cows live
for 15-20 years.
Alarmed and revolted by rBGH,
consumers have turned in droves to organic milk and dairy products or
to brands labeled as rBGH-free. Nonetheless, use of the drug has continued
to increase in the US (and in nations like Brazil and Mexico) especially
in large dairy herds, so that currently 15%
of America's 10 million lactating dairy cows are being injected with rBGH.
Compounding the problem of
rBGH contamination, most of the nation's 1500 dairy companies are allowing
the co-mingling of rBGH and non-rBGH milk, thereby contaminating 80-90%
of the nation's milk and dairy supply (including all of the major infant
formula brands). For a list of organic and rBGH-free dairies in the US
consult the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) website.
The major reason that rBGH
is still on the market is that it is not labeled. Supermarket dairy managers,
following guidelines circulated by the rBGH and biotech lobby, routinely
lie to consumers, telling them either that rBGH is not in their products,
or that there's no way to tell, and reassuring them that the FDA has certified
that rBGH is safe.
Of course, every survey conducted
since 1994 shows that if consumers were given a choice, they would boycott
Responding to the global controversy
surrounding the drug, Monsanto put BGH for sale in 1998, but there were
no takers. Transnational PR firms working with the biotech industry have
categorized Monsanto's handling of the rBGH controversy as a "public
Starbucks has been a target
as 3/4 of the 32 million gallons of milk it buys every year in the US
are coming from dairies that allow cows to be injected with rBGH.
Once Starbucks' 15 million
customers learn that most of the latte or cappuccino drinks they're paying
top dollar for (3/4 of the volume of these drinks are milk) contain an
extra dose of pus, antibiotics, and growth hormones and that Fair Trade
and organic coffee constitute less than one percent of company sales,
they may decide to take their business elsewhere.
Total annual sales for the
company are approximately $2.5 billion.
The worst nightmare of Monsanto
and the biotech industry is starting to materialize: a mass-based consumer
and environmental marketplace pressure campaign in the heartland of GE
A number of major US food companies
are already responding to public pressure and starting to sweep GE foods
off their products lists and their grocery shelves: Gerber (baby food),
Heinz (baby food), Frito-Lay (at least for their corn), Whole Foods, Wild
Oats, Trader Joe's, and even McDonald's (at least for their French fries).