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Starbucks Causes Stir with Ban on Dairy Products from Cows Injected with Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone

Web Note: Despite dairy industry misinformation (see quotes below at end of article), milk from dairy cows injected with Monsanto's controversial genetically engineered hormone, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (or Posilac) contains significantly higher levels of a potent cancer tumor promoter, called IGF-1, that increases human risks for cancer. This is one of the main reasons why rBGH is banned in nearly every industrialized country in the world, except for the US.  Bovine Growth Hormone is also banned worldwide on organic dairy farms. -- Ronnie Cummins

Starbucks is regionally dropping milk products from cows treated with rBGH, a hormone to encourage milk production. The change affects stores in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and several others in the West and in New England.

The decision by Starbucks to drop dairy products from cows treated with an artificial growth hormone is stirring controversy in the West's dairy lands. The Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. is cutting milk, half-and-half, whipped cream and other liquid dairy products made using the bovine growth hormone, known as rBGH, from its drink menu. The decision increases by 27 percent the purchases of non-rBST dairy products by Starbucks compared to the 2006 fiscal year. It affects stand-alone Starbucks stores in Northern California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and in New England.

Dairy groups and biotech experts were distressed, but not surprised by the decision.

Dr. Peggy Lemaux, a UC Berkeley professor and Cooperative Extension biotech specialist, called Starbuck's move a marketing decision.

"It is a matter of choice. Consumers should have the choice either way. Whether they do or don't want it, that's their choice," Lemaux said. "Doing it for the reason that people want that as opposed to --- 'oh, my God, it could be dangerous' --- are two different issues. The latter is simply not true. But if people want it because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside, then OK, a farmer ought to do it if it brings him more money."

Lemaux said the biotech debate has been relatively quiet recently. "When there isn't a new issue, often people who feel in their hearts this is right thing - not to use genetically engineered hormones, they stir something up that has been lying dormant for a while," Lemaux said. "For me, that's what this appears to be."

Monsanto Co., the St. Louis-based firm that produces Posilac, defended its product. Monsanto spokesman Andrew Burchett said the Starbucks decision works against farmers, consumers and the environment.

"It implies that there is something wrong with the vast majority of the milk that is out there today. That is bad for the dairy industry," he said. "Farmers who choose to use Posilac --- and it is a choice - farmers who choose to use it to make a living lose access to a tool that helps them make a living."

He estimates that about a third of the dairy cows in the U.S. herd are in herds where Posilac is used. Burchett said Monsanto's customers are "very representative of the range of herd size and demographics" in the U.S. dairy industry.

"As U.S. farmers are able to use products like Posilac to produce more milk with fewer animals, it does reduce the impact on the environment," Burchett said. "Starbuck's procurement policy appears to encourage less efficient use of natural resources to produce milk. That's something that is of concern too."

Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen, based in Modesto, said the whole issue of rBST in milk products is moot.

"No milk in the United States can be served anywhere if it has rBST or rGBH in it. And it is not," he said. "The only way that would occur is if you had somebody adulterate the product after it was processed at the milk processing plant."

Posilac is a management tool to stimulate milk production but does not go into the milk, Marsh said. The product is a synthetic version of the hormone naturally occurring in the cow.

"It is a good opportunity to charge consumers more for something they weren't going to get anyway," Marsh said of Starbuck's decision.