rBGH in Milk – The Revolving Door
August 24, 2007
In light of the potential danger to the milk-drinking public and the proven danger to cows, how could the FDA allow rBGH on the market? Critics argue the approval was the result of pressure placed on the FDA by Monsanto and its powerful lobbyists. In fact, Dr. Richard Burroughs, a senior FDA scientist overseeing the rBGH safety studies, claims he was fired from the FDA because his concerns about the safety of rBGH delayed the approval process. Critics have also noted and condemned a “revolving door” between the FDA and Monsanto. For example, Michael Taylor, the FDA commissioner responsible for writing the labeling guidelines, had worked as a Monsanto lawyer for seven years before joining the FDA. While at Monsanto, he created their strategy for suppressing labeling information on rBGH. Likewise, the deputy director of the FDA’s New Animal Drugs Office had been a Monsanto research scientist working on rBGH safety studies, and another researcher in the same office had done Monsanto-funded rBGH research at Cornell University, working under a paid Monsanto consultant. Incredibly, Congress’ General Accounting Office ruled in 1994 that none of these cases of longstanding connections to Monsanto posed a conflict of interest.ii
Monsanto on the Offensive
While the FDA was lax in its reviews of rBGH, Monsanto aggressively tried to suppress the health risks involved in the use of the hormone. In 2001, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two respected investigative journalists at a Fox News station in Tampa, Florida, were fired after months of controversy surrounding their investigative report on rBGH use in Florida dairies. According to the journalists, the station delayed airing their story and demanded they include inaccurate information about rBGH after Monsanto threatened the station with legal action.iii
In 2003, Monsanto asked the state of Maine to stop issuing an official Quality Seal, which the state only grants to dairies that do not use rBGH. Maine refused. Later that year, Monsanto sued Oakhurst Dairy, Maine’s largest dairy operation, over its rBGH-free labels. Ultimately, Oakhurst changed its labels, adding the statement “FDA States: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone.” iv
Both the European Union and Canada have banned rBGH due to safety concerns. Reviews conducted by Health Canada (Canada’s equivalent of the FDA) determined the use of rBGH increases the risk of mastitis by 25 percent, affects reproductive functions, increases the risk of clinical lameness by 50 percent, and shortens the lives of cows.v Nonetheless, Monsanto lobbied the Canadian government hard to win Posalic (Monsanto’s brand name for rBGH) approval north of the border. Dr. Margaret Hayden, a Health Canada researcher, reported to the Canadian Senate that officials from Monsanto had offered between $1 million and $2 million to Health Canada scientists—an offer she says could only be understood as an attempted bribe.vi
Even with all these efforts to promote rBGH, farmers, consumers and health advocates are rejecting the hormone. In 2004, Monsanto announced a 50 percent cutback of Posalic production due to repeated bacteria contamination at their plant in Austria.vii While rumors have circulated that Monsanto was preparing to phase out its sales of rBGH altogether, they recently completed construction of a new Prosalac plant in Augusta, Georgia.viii
Reidhead, Paris. “Richard Burroughs, DVM: On FDA and Posalic®” The Milkweed, January 2006.
Ferrara, Jennifer, “Revolving Doors: Monsanto and the Regulators.” The Ecologist, September–October, 1998.
Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. “Monsanto and Fox: Partners in Censorship.” PR Watch, Second Quarter 1998, Volume 5, No. 2. Kiley Mack, Sharon. “Maine Dairy Caves In to Pressure from Monsanto on rBGH-Free Labeling.” Bangor Daily News, December 25, 2003. “Report of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Expert Panel on rBST,” Prepared for Health Canada, November 1998.Baxter, James, “Monsanto Accused of Attempt to Bribe Health Canada for rBGH (Posalic®) Approval.” The Ottawa Citizen, October 23, 1998. Pollack, Andrew, “Maker Warns of Scarcity of Hormone for Dairy Cows.” New York Times, January 27, 2004.Melcer, Rachel, “Monsanto takes over production of milk hormone.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2006——————————————————————————————————