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Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone Being Driven off the Market

TORONTO (Reuters) - Starbucks is well-known for selling grande lattes and frappuccinos, but it also buys enormous quantities of milk - about 32 million gallons a year.

Responding to consumer concerns about genetic engineering and food safety, those gallons will soon be free of Posilac, a controversial synthetic growth hormone used to boost milk production.

Last month, the company committed to making 100 percent of the milk supply for its more than 5,600 American locations free of the synthetic bovine growth hormone -- officially known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) -- by the end of the year.

Grocery retailer Kroger's has also said it would only sell rbST-free by early 2008.

"This is a very clear message to the dairy industry that consumers don't like having their cows treated with bovine growth hormone," said Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University and author of the book "What To Eat".

Posilac, sold by Monsanto Co., is the genetically engineered version of a hormone produced by lactating cows and found in all milk. The two hormones are chemically very similar, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no difference between milk from treated and untreated cows.

The synthetic hormone has been controversial since it received FDA approval in 1993, amid scientific and consumer criticism and heavy lobbying by Monsanto. Critics argue that rbST was never properly cleared of safety concerns, and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union all refused to approve Posilac because of animal health concerns...

Consumer feelings about artificial growth hormones is so strong that, soon, only rbST-free milk will be sold in the United States, said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. The power of consumer pressure to change market dynamics is encouraging, he said, despite the FDA's refusal to change its stance on rbST.

Cummins adds that, overall, the tide may have turned on food safety. "Once you realize what's going on with modern food and farming systems and you make a decision that you're going to try to purchase alternatives to protect your health and your family's health," he said, "you're going to keep going."

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