THE rBGH SCANDALS



In trying to get rBGH to market, Monsanto and government agencies became involved in a number of scandals. Anyone who has ever wonder how big business does business should find the following instructional:

Three British scientists who anaylzed data on rBGH for Monsanto charged that the company has tried to block publication of their research. Erik Millstone, Eric Brunner and Ian White said the company blocked publication of their 1991 paper on the hormone's links to increases in somatic cell (pus and bacteria) counts as a result of mastitis.

In an article in the British scientific journal Nature, the scientists said they found a much higher white blood cell count in milk from cows treated with rBGH than reported by Monsanto looking at the same data. The article concludes, "Until those data are in the public domain, some important questions about the effects of BST on animal health will remain unsolved."

Monsanto will not allow the researchers to publish their results. A report released in October 1994 concluded that Monsanto violated federal law by illegally promoting rBGH prior to FDA approval. According to the report, issued by the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services which oversees the FDA, the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine warned Monsanto in 1991 about improper promotion of the hormone and cited 24 instances of the company making promotional statements. One was labeled "BST Worksheet" and was designed to help dairy farmers figure their profits from using the drug.

Despite the warning, Monsanto continued bending or breaking the anti-promotion rules from May 1991 through October 1993. The report faulted FDA for not issuing a warning or sanctioning Monsanto. Instead, the FDA sent the company letters that "would have been interpreted as excusing the conduct.

"In late 1993, when Congress was debating final approval of rBGH, Monsanto used its government action on the drug. According to confidential documents obtained by The Foundation on Economic Trends (FET) and then turned over to The New York Times, Monsanto used chief strategist for the Democratic National Committee Tony Coehlo's friendship with then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to try to influence the outcome for its product.

At the time, Congress had imposed a ninety-day moratorium on the sale of rBGH and was demanding further study of its economic impact on small dairy farmers.

Concerned, Monsanto President Robert B. Shapiro called Coehlo for help. Coehlo is a former California Congressman and house majority whip who left that post in 1989 amid accusations that he had improperly used his political contacts to arrange and finance a $100,000 junk-bond investment for himself. Coehlo had become a New York investment banker and, because he remained very well-connected, President Clinton selected him as chief strategist for the Democratic National Committee in 1994.

Coehlo called the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to find out who was blocking approval of rBGH. He spoke with Espy's senior aide, Kim Schnoor. Coehlo has strong ties at USDA. Now disgraced, then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy won his first race for Congress in 1986 with substantial financial help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was then headed by Coehlo. Further, President Clinton's selection of Espy as Agriculture Secretary came at Coehlo's recommendation. And before the just-appointed Espy picked his new staff, Coehlo proposed that Espy take Kim Schnoor, Choehlo's former Congressional aide as Espy's senior aide. Schnoor had been providing Monsanto officials with critical information regarding White House and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) strategy regarding rBGH.

One memorandum obtained by FET, written by Dr. Virginia V. Weldon of Monsanto, entitled, "Coehlo Talking Points for Espy Dinner," and dated Sept. 21, 1993, advised other Monsanto officials that, based on information provided to the company by Schnoor, Monsanto had drafted appropriate talking points for Coehlo to present to Espy at a dinner. The Weldon memo also said that Coehlo should "ask Espy to talk personally with Mr. (Leon) Panetta (then-OMB head and another Coehlo friend) to persuade him to duck {Congress'} request to study the 'social impact' of BST.

"The Weldon memo goes on to suggest that to persuade the Administration to champion rBGH a Monsanto lobbyist (Coehlo) should "Let Secretary Espy know that companies like Monsanto will likely pull out of the agriculture biotech are if the Administration will not stand up to persons like Senator Feingold".

(Sen. Russ Fiengold {D-WI] had been responsible for organizing Congressional opposition to the hormone and had asked for the economic impact study.)

The Coehlo "talking points" also included a proposal to Espy to "Develop, in coordination with the U.S. dairy industry, a proactive plan to ensure consumers of the safety of milk and dairy products that have been produced with supplemental BST. Such an effort should be coordinated with the National Dairy Board and the International Dairy Foods Association."FET publicized the memoranda and as a result, the Coehlo-Espy dinner meeting never took place.

A few months later, however, OMB said it had completed its study and concluded that the economic effects of the hormone would be minimal; Congress then gave its final approval and rBGH was marketed. FET petitioned the Justice Department to investigate possible conflict of interest involving the USDA, Monsanto, and Coehlo, and asked fro Espy's resignation. Soon after, Espy resigned as the result of another, unrelated scandal.

A Government Accounting Office (GAO) report cleared three FDA officials accused of conflict of interest and ethical misconduct in the approval of rBGH, to the shock and disbelief of FET and three members of Congress who had brought the accusations. The report concluded that there was only minor rule-breaking by former employees and associates of Monsanto, who, as employees of the FDA had key roles in approving rBGH.

The GAO report takes 30 pages to document how a former Monsanto lawyer, Michael Taylor; a former Monsanto scientist, Margaret Miller; and a student of Monsanto's top scientist, Suzanne Sechen, all played key roles in helping the FDA decide that rBGH is safe for cows and people and that it need not be labeled.

Taylor, for example, who was Deputy FDA Commissioner at the time, had been, until 1991, a leading Washington, D.C., layer representing Monsanto and the International Food biotechnology Council for many years, specializing in food labeling and regulatory issues. While at the FDA, Taylor wrote the policy exempting rBGH and other biotech foods from special labeling.

Taylor's former law firm, which continued to represent Monsanto, field lawsuits against two dairies that had labeled their milk rBGH-free only days after Taylor's guidelines were finalized. In March 1994, FET had petitioned the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the matter.

Three members of Congress then asked the GAO to investigate. After FET filed its complaint, Taylor was mysteriously transferred out of the FDA and now heads the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service. Jeremy Rifkin, President of FET, called the GAO report, which revealed even more than FET had originally discovered, "devastating" and a "significant scandal." "It has confirmed my worst suspicions about the FDA," he said.

Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also disagrees with the report's verdict and said its findings actually prove "the FDA allowed corporate influence to run rampant in its approval" of the drug.

In November 1994, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) program Fifth Estate televised a one-hour documentary reporting that Monsanto had tried to bribe Health Canada (Canada's version of the FDA), offering to pay as much as two million dollars under the condition that Monsanto receive approval to market rBGH in Canada without being required to submit data from any further studies or trials.

According to journalists who worked on the documentary, Monsanto tried to kill the show, arguing through its lawyers that CBC had maliciously rigged interviews. But CBC stuck to its guns and ran the program.

The National Farmers Union is investigating possible illegalities in Monsanto's practice of enlisting agricultural veterinarians in promoting rBGH. The group has noted that many states, including New York, have laws prohibiting veterinarians from taking direct or indirect compensation from pharmaceutical companies to promote their products. Until recently, Monsanto had been issuing $150 vouchers for veterinary care to farmers who initially ordered rBGH. But some veterinarians who had promoted rBGH very hard signed up some fifty to one hundred farms each. "Now we're talking about many thousands of dollars," said Bruce Krug, a New York dairy farmer and coordinator of the New York Farmers Union. "This is a blatant kickback to the veterinarians.

Monsanto has underwritten joint promotional campaigns with veterinary clinics in an effort to sell farmers on rBGH."Not only were vets being compensated through Monsanto's voucher program, they are also profiting handsomely from their clients' rBGH usage because the drug is making so many animals sick.

Organic Consumers Association (OCA)
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Ronnie Cummins E-mail: alliance@mr.net    http://www.purefood.org

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