Monsanto To Dump Milk Hormone

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Even as we approach Tisha B’Av and the broken, darkness this time symbolizes, a bright light is shining in our food world.

Monsanto has finally admitted defeat in a 20-year struggle to gain acceptance of its genetically engineered milk hormone, rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBST, recombinant bovine somatropin – trade name Posilac). Yesterday, Monsanto publicly gave up in the ‘milk wars,” when it announced that it was “pursuing a divestiture of its dairy product, POSILAC(R) bovine somatotropin, in the upcoming months.”

In 1994, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Monsanto’s controversial rBGH, but gave dairies the right to label milk produced without rBGH as rBGH-free. Since its approval in 1994, rBGH has been at the center of controversy.

Scientists and physicians have long raised questions about the long-term safety of consuming milk from cows treated with rBGH – concerns stemming from the milk’s increased levels of insulin-like growth factor, another powerful hormone. Regulators in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all 27 nations of the European Union have banned rbGH due to adverse effects on animal health. For example, cows injected with the hormone show increased risks for infertility and lameness as well as for udder infections, which are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotic use on animals is a major cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a major public health threat.

Numerous polls show that there is widespread consumer demand for milk produced by cows not injected with artificial hormones. A June, 2007 Consumer Reports National Research Center poll of over 1,000 people nationwide found that 76 percent of consumers were concerned with dairy cows given synthetic growth hormones and 88 percent agreed that milk from cows raised without synthetic bovine growth hormone should be allowed to be labeled as such.

In the wake of shattered consumer confidence, Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone business has been in decline since 2002, according to a recent USDA report. The number of dairy cows injected with rBGH dropped from 22.3 percent of all U.S. cows in 2002 to 17.2 percent in 2007, a nearly 23 percent drop. This response to market demand continues: in 2008, many more dairies have announced that are going rbGH-free.

In a last attempt to revive rBGH, Monsanto has attempted to take away the consumer right to know by taking away the right to label milk rBGH-free. Last year year, Monsanto asked FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to declare rBGH-free labels as misleading. In August 2007, the FTC wrote to Monsanto, “The FTC staff agrees with FDA that food companies may inform consumers in advertising, as in labeling, that they do not use rbST.”

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Subsequent attempts by Monsanto to ban such labeling at the state level have met with strong resistance from local consumers, advocacy groups, farmers and dairies. Earlier this summer, an overwhelming public backlash forced Pennsylvania Governor Rendell to rescind an order from his Dept. of Agriculture to remove labels from milk identifying it as produced without use of rbGH. A similar rule put forward in Ohio is now under legal challenge by groups representing farmers, dairies and consumers (the Center for Food Safety is a co-plaintiff).

This victory in the ‘milk wars’ has been driven by consumers and consumer advocacy groups. In the past year, in response to Monsanto’s attempt to take away the right to know that milk is rBGH free, a concerted campaign by CFS and a large coalition of national advocacy organizations, has worked to inform consumers to preserve our right to know. In response to consumer outcry, this past year, Starbucks, Krogers, Kraft and many other companies decided to stop using rBGH due to human and animal health risks as well as strong conumer demand healthy, rBGH-free milk.

As we move from darkness to light this Tisa B’Av, let this consumer victory be a symbol, especially in the food world, of what we can do, individually and collectively, to create a world that is healthy and sustainable.

L’Chaim!

Related Articles
NY Times: Monsanto Looks to Sell Dairy Hormone Business
Jcarrot: Indiana May Ban Hormone Labeling to Protect Monsanto

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