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Dr. Samuel Epstein's 20 Year Fight Against Biotech, Cancer-Causing Milk

Twenty years ago, back when Frank Young, M.D. was Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he received a report from Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. entitled "Potential Public Health Hazards of Biosynthetic Milk Hormones," warning of the public health dangers of consuming milk from hormone-treated cows.

Injection of cows with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), the genetically engineered, potent variant of the natural growth hormone produced by cows, sharply elevates levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in milk, Dr. Epstein warned the commissioner.

IGF-1, which is readily absorbed through the small intestine, increases the risk of cancer in people who drink milk from cows treated with rBGH, he warned. In 1989, Dr. Epstein had found evidence of breast cancer resulting from IGF-1 ingestion; a few years later colon and prostate data began to emerge.

In his role as professor of environmental and occupational medicine with the School of Public Health, University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, Dr. Epstein urged the FDA Commissioner to ban the manufacture and sale of rBGH, as well as milk from treated cows, until all public and veterinary health and safety concerns were resolved.

Manufactured by Monsanto, rBGH is sold to dairy farmers under the trade name Posilac. Injection of this hormone forces cows to increase their milk production by about 10%. Monsanto has stated that about one third of dairy cows are in herds where the hormone is used.

Dr. Epstein warns that rBGH milk is often contaminated with pus, due to mastitis, an udder infection commonly induced by rBGH, and also with antibiotics used to treat the mastitis. This poses risks of nationwide antibiotic resistance to life threatening infections, he warns.

His 1989 report criticized Monsanto for failing to disclose their unpublished data and for the company's refusal to label milk from rBGH treated cows, which denies consumers the right to know when they consume hormonal milk.

"These concerns are further exacerbated by the abdication of regulatory responsibility by the FDA and USDA," Dr. Epstein wrote.

Dr. Epstein did not wait for government action.

In the September/October 1989 issue of the journal The Ecologist, of which he was associate editor, Dr. Epstein published the first major warning to reach the public about the risks of consuming rBGH milk.

In addition to increased risk of breast cancer, consuming hormonal milk increased stress, increased susceptibility to allergens, and suppressed the body's immune system, making the consumer more vulnerable to infectious diseases, the Ecologist article stated.

In Britain, the article explained, field trials of the hormone were being conducted secretly.

In the United States, the FDA granted the industry immunity from measuring hormone concentrations in milk from cows treated with rBGH.

Dr. Epstein objected that this exemption violated the 1938 Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which requires the FDA to have a "prescribed and approved test method" for determining whether a drug is being improperly used with resulting illegal residues in food. But no test was available for rBGH milk.

In September 1989, Dr. Epstein testified on these matters to the Wisconsin State Assembly Committee on Agriculture, and the following year, published an article based on his testimony in the International Journal of Health Services.

He has repeatedly called on government to require the industry to "fund research in accordance with independently approved protocols" supervised by a "neutral, independent intermediary" such as the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.

In December 1990, Dr. Epstein presented these views at a conference hosted by the National Institutes of Health, warning that high IGF-1 levels could increase the risk of breast cancer in people who drink rBGH milk.

Nevertheless, in 1993, the FDA approved the commercial sale of milk from rBGH treated cows and issued regulations banning the labeling of rBGH milk.

In 1994, FDA Commissioner David Kessler, M.D. received a letter from Dr. Epstein expressing his "grave concerns" about the risks of breast and colon cancer from consumption of hormonal milk.

Now chairman of his new nonprofit organization, the Cancer Prevention Coalition," Dr. Epstein wrote, "IGF-1 induces malignant transformation of normal human breast epithelial cells. IGF-1 is a growth factor for human breast cancer cells, maintaining their malignancy, progression and invasiveness. IGF-1 has similarly been associated with colon cancer."

The letter urged Kessler to revoke the agency's approval of rBGH registration.

Given these concerns, dairy farmers began assuring the public by putting "hormone-free" labels on milk from cows that had not been injected with rBGH. A month later, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Dr. Epstein blasting the FDA for the labeling ban.

The labeling ban was challenged by nationwide grassroots consumers groups, and by two milk suppliers, both of whom were sued by Monsanto.

In a range of public arenas, from 1996 Chicago hearings on the labeling of genetically modified foods to a 1998 article in the "International Journal of Health Services," Dr. Epstein continued to warn that rBGH milk poses increased risks for breast and colon cancer.

"In short," he wrote in the 1998 article, "with the active complicity of the FDA, the entire nation is currently being subjected to an experiment involving large-scale adulteration of an age-old dietary staple by a poorly characterized and unlabeled biotechnology product. Disturbingly, this experiment benefits only a very small segment of the agri-chemical industry while providing no matching benefits to consumers. Even more disturbingly, it poses major public health risks for the entire U.S. population."

In March 1998, Dr. Epstein added a new warning about consumption of rBGH milk - prostate cancer.

In the journal Gene Therapy Weekly, he wrote that rBGH milk is "supercharged with high levels of abnormally potent IGF-1, up to 10 times the levels in natural milk and over 10 times more potent."

"Apart from prostate cancer," he warned, "multiple lines of evidence have also incriminated the role of IGF-1 as risk factors for breast, colon and childhood cancers."

After 10 years of warnings based on in-depth scientific documentation, Dr. Epstein began to get support in his fight against hormonal milk.

In March 1999, the Scientific Committee of the European Commission released a report finding excess levels of IGF-1 in milk of cows injected with rBGH. The report concluded that the excess IGF-1 poses serious risks of breast and prostate cancer.

Commenting on the Scientific Committee's report, Dr. Epstein criticized Codex, the World Health Organization responsible for setting international food safety standards, which had approved hormonal milk. "FDA officials and industry consultants are members of Codex, which meets in secrecy and relies on unpublished industry assurances of safety," he wrote.

Just five months later, in August 1999, Codex unexpectedly ruled in favor of the 1993 European Union moratorium on rBGH milk. The ruling forced the United States to abandon its threat to challenge the moratorium at the World Trade Organization.

Cancer Prevention Coalition warnings were endorsed by the National Family Farm Coalition, representing 30 organizations, and also by the Campaign Against rBGH, representing 10 organizations.

The Organic Consumers Association and Director Ronnie Cummins endorsed the campaign to educate the public about the dangers of rBGH milk. In a joint 2005 editorial in the journal Medical Veritas Epstein and Cummins wrote, "...increased IGF-1 blood levels have been incriminated as a major cause of cancer."

Over 100 leading independent experts in cancer prevention and public health, plus citizen activist groups endorsed this warning, wrote Epstein and Cummins.

This endorsement was coupled with insistence that the public has "an absolute right-to-know" of information on avoidable causes of cancer, "a democratic right which the agribusiness and FDA continue to subvert," they wrote.

In 2006, Dr. Epstein published the book, What's in Your Milk? An Exposé of Industry and Government Cover-Up on the Dangers of the Genetically Engineered (rBGH) Milk You're Drinking, (Trafford Publishing).

Monsanto, supported by the FDA, insists that rBGH milk is indistinguishable from natural milk, and that it is safe for consumers. "This is blatantly false," wrote Dr. Epstein, listing the dangers of milk from cows treated with the hormone.

 * rBGH makes cows sick. Monsanto has been forced to admit to about 20 toxic effects, including mastitis, on its Posilac label.

 * rBGH milk is contaminated by pus, due to the mastitis commonly induced by rBGH, and antibiotics used to treat the mastitis.

 * rBGH milk is chemically, and nutritionally different than natural milk.

 * Milk from cows injected with rBGH is contaminated with the hormone, traces of which are absorbed through the gut into the blood.

 * rBGH milk is supercharged with high levels of the natural growth factor, IGF-1, which is readily absorbed through the gut.

 * Excess levels of IGF-1 have been incriminated as a cause of breast, colon, and prostate cancers.

 * IGF-1 blocks natural defense mechanisms against early submicroscopic cancers.

 * rBGH factory farms pose a major threat to the viability of small dairy farms.

 * rBGH enriches Monsanto, while posing dangers, without any benefits, to consumers, especially in view of the current national surplus of milk.

Of still greater concern, based on 37 published scientific studies as detailed in the book, excess levels of IGF-1 in rBGH milk pose major risks of breast, colon and prostate cancers.

Not surprisingly rBGH milk is banned in Canada, the EU and internationally.

The book features an Introduction by Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and president of the group Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. The Foreword was written by Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the bestseller Seeds of Deception.

The book attracted endorsements from Congressman John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Mark Achbar, executive producer of the multiple prize-winning documentary The Corporation; Dr. Joseph Mercola, founder of the world's most visited natural health website; Quentin Young, M.D., chairman of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group and past president of the American Public Health Association; and Peter I. Hardin, editor and publisher of "The Milkweed," an influential monthly publication covering the dairy industry.

Other endorsers included Ken Ausubel, author of "Seeds of Change" and director of the Bioneers conferences; and Anna Lappe, author of "Diet for a Small Planet."

The book is a unique resource on rBGH milk. It presents Dr. Epstein's trailblazing scientific publications since 1989, which have played a major role in influencing other nations, including Canada, 24 European nations, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan to ban rBGH milk.

The book also presents: the author's editorials and letters to major newspapers, and correspondence with the FDA, Congressman Conyers, and other key members of Congress.

In the book, Epstein also details evidence of interlocking conflicts of interest between Monsanto and the White House, the American Medical Association and American Cancer Society. He presents evidence of Monsanto's white collar crime; the suppression and manipulation of information on the veterinary and public health dangers of rBGH milk; and evidence of Monsanto's "Hit Squad," which attempted to stifle and discredit him.

Monsanto's corporate recklessness, compounded by FDA's complicity and refusal to require labeling of rBGH milk, more than justify the rejection of any assurances of its safety. Of further interest is the critical relevance of this information to the ongoing growing concerns and debate on genetically engineered foods, including irrefutable evidence discrediting the "trust us" safety assurances of Monsanto, and other industries.

The book also presents resource materials, including listings of national and international anti-biotech, public health, veterinary and animal rights activist groups. Also listed are rBGH-free U.S. dairy producers, such as Horizon Organic, and Swiss Valley Farms.

What's In Your Milk's critical message to consumers is, BOYCOTT rBGH HORMONAL MILK IN FAVOR OF CERTIFIED ORGANIC MILK. The book is available from Trafford Publishing,

In 2007, Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D. was the FDA Commissioner. The Cancer Prevention Coalition petitioned the FDA, "Seeking Withdrawal of the New Animal Drug application for rBST." This petition was endorsed by the Organic Consumers Association, Farm Defenders, the Institute for Responsible Technology and by Hungarian biologist Arpad Pusztai.

The petition asks that the FDA suspend approval of the rBGH product Posilac and/or require that milk and other dairy products produced by injecting Posilac carry warning labels stating, "Produced with the use of Posilac, and contains elevated levels of IGF-1, a major risk factor for breast, prostate and colon cancers."

It is currently estimated that about 20% of U.S. milk is produced with the use of rBGH.

Still considered the leading international scientific expert on hormonal milk, Dr. Epstein is not waiting for government action on rBGH milk, although all the concerns he has expressed over the past 20 years are still outstanding.

On October 14, 2009 he criticized a widely publicized report, "Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin," which repeats claims that milk from cows injected with rBGH is safe, pointing out that the report was authored by eight paid consultants to rBST companies, including Elanco and Monsanto.

Dr. Epstein is now professor emeritus of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He is the author of 270 scientific publications, and author or co-author of 12 books, including the prize winning 1978 The Politics of Cancer, the 1995 The Safe Shopper's Bible, and the 2005 Cancer-Gate: How to Win the Losing Cancer War.

Dr. Epstein has been the recipient of many awards, including the 1998 Right Livelihood Award, the Alternative Nobel Prize, for his incomparable contributions to cancer prevention, and for his leadership role in warning of the dangers of rBGH milk. Dr. Epstein received the 2000 Project Censored Award. In 2005, Dr. Epstein was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for Humanitarianism, and International Contributions to Cancer Prevention.