Organic Consumers Association

What Are Monsanto & the FDA Hiding Regarding Controversial Cow Hormone?

FDA, Monsanto need to reveal truth about growth hormone

The Capital Times
Madison, Wisconsin

By Peter Hardin
February 2, 2004

Monsanto has announced a 50 percent cutback in sales of its recombinant
bovine growth hormone. The veterinary drug is trademarked and sold as

About 22 percent of U.S. dairy cows receive Posilac injections every two
weeks, to boost milk output.

What's gone wrong with Monsanto's rbGH?

This biotech cow hormone has rocked the dairy industry and consumers
since the mid-1980s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration admits the
hormone has been its biggest-ever consumer food safety controversy.
Monsanto's rbGH was the first major biotech food production "tool"
approved by the FDA.

Three potential problem areas come to mind: human safety, animal safety
and quality control.

In my opinion, the FDA's human safety oversight of rbGH has been flawed
from the beginning.

In the mid-1980s, the FDA failed to require a mandatory residue test for
rbGH. Yet Monsanto and government officials claim there is "no
difference" in the milk from untreated and rbGH-injected cows.

To counter intense public skepticism about rbGH, the FDA published a
10-page summary of its human safety determinations in the journal
Science in August 1990. Among the findings, the agency said that the
rbGH in the milk of injected cows was degraded by commercial
pasteurization. The sole research cited for this claim was that of a
Canadian graduate student, whose master's thesis studied the feeding of
rbGH-derived milk to calves (not humans). This study erroneously heated
milk for 30 minutes at the 15-second pasteurization temperature.

The greatest human safety issue regarding consumption of milk from
rbGH-injected cows focuses on a secondary hormone: insulin-like growth
factor-one, called IGF-1.

Growth hormones (natural and synthetic) regulate bodily production of
IGF-1. IGF-1 is a miraculous, blood-borne "messenger" hormone that
regulates cellular growth and function. Increased growth hormone levels
(natural or synthetic) mean more IGF-1-spurring metabolism in mammary
tissue, bones and elsewhere.

Structurally, IGF-1 is identical for cows and humans. Some IGF-1
naturally occurs in cow's milk. Data suggest higher IGF-1 levels are
found in rbGH-injected cows' milk, compared to normal milk. Thousands of
research studies probing potential links between IGF-1 and cancer
development have been published in scientific and medical journals.

With regard to animal safety, injections of rbGH spur dairy cow
metabolism. One-third more blood is pumped through injected cows'
hearts. This synthetic hormone is so powerful it kills muscle tissue at
injection sites.

In early 1990, my newspaper, The Milkweed, published stolen Monsanto
animal health research files. Those files showed dramatic increases in
weights of many key organs and glands of treated cows, compared to
control groups.

Increased IGF-1 circulating in rbGH-injected cows' milk leaves mammary
tissue and bones at greater risk for health problems, according to
Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union. The modern U.S. dairy cow is
under many stresses, even before she may be poked with Monsanto's
biotech hormone to induce greater milk output.

Two instances of rbGH quality control problems have surfaced.

In summer 1993 - just before the FDA's approval of recombinant bovine
growth hormone - confidential company documents revealed nearly a ton of
dry rbGH had been contaminated at the manufacturing plant in Austria.

And in 1994, Monsanto scientist Bernard Violand reported aberrant amino
acid sequences - an unintended result that his article in Protein
Science acknowledged researchers did not fully understand.

Making batches of recombinant hormones using E. coli as media is not
like making Jell-O.

What's gone wrong with Monsanto's rbGH? Synthetic hormones used in our
food-producing livestock pose risks too serious to cover up. If a
serious problem exists, why has only 50 percent of rbGH sales been
curtailed, instead of 100 percent? Consumers and dairy farmers deserve a
complete and honest explanation of why the FDA has restricted this drug.

A perceived cover-up by the FDA and Monsanto will only invite legal
challenges and worst-case rumors. Biotechnology's long-term interests
are best served by full disclosure.

Peter Hardin lives near Brooklyn. He is the editor/publisher of The
Milkweed, a monthly milk pricing report.

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.