Monsanto jumps ship as consumers demand hormone free milk

August 18, 2008

Insisiting that there’s no problem with the product, St. Louis- based Monsanto, announced it is selling the division that produces bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST.

But nationwide a growing number of consumers and dairy processors feel otherwise. “No artificial growth hormones used” is now commonly displayed on store shelves from Florida to California.

Posilac, is sold in an injectable form to an unknown number of dairy farmers in the U.S. and internationally.  Monsanto refused to divulge sales figures, but insists that one-third of the nation’s cows receive injections. The USDA estimate that number to be more in the range of 15 percent.

The dairy drug is now made at the company’s Augusta, Georgia plant after production problems at its Austrian facility forced it to close earlier this year.

Monsanto has no timeline for the sale and would not comment on any prospective buyers.

Consumer surveys show that over the last decade, consumers have rejected buying milk from artificial hormone treated cows. In the last several years, major retailers such as Safeway, Publix and Kroger have decided to ban the artificial hormone in their store-brand milk.  Starbucks has refused to purchase dairy from treated cows at its 6,793 company-operated stores.  Chipotle Mexican Grill, a McDonalds spinoff, has banned rBST in its company stores.

In January, Kraft Foods announced it would offer a line of cheese made with rBGH-free milk, despite assurances from the FDA that it is safe.  Glanbia, a high-volume cheese production company in Idaho and New Mexico ,will phase out the use of Posilac by next year.  Dean Foods, the largest U.S. dairy company now offers a line of rBST-free products.

Recently agriculture officials around the country moved to limit labels on dairy products that disclosed whether they came from treated or untreated cows. In February, consumer pressure led to a reversal of a labeling prohibition in Pennsylvania. 

The company plans to continue sales outside of the country, particularly Mexico and Brazil.

rBGH is approved for use in 20 countries, says the Monsanto spokesperson, although it is banned in all of Europe, Japan, Australia and other industrialized countries, with the exception of the U.S.

rBGH was approved by the FDA in November 1993 and marketed in February 1994. Studies show that milk from treated cows has an increased level of a spinoff hormone, IGF-1, which causes the cow to produce more milk.  IGF-1 is identical in cows and humans, and studies show that it causes cells to proliferate, including cancerous cells.

The Cancer Prevention Coalition’s Dr. Sam Epstein says that the IGF-1 from rBGH treated milk is “supercharged” and can lead to an increased number of cancers in humans.  Consumers Union cites that elevated mastitis rates among treated cows leads to additional antibiotic treatment in the animal. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics “may pass into humans through milk, air, water or soil, or through ground meat”, says Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with CU.

Posilac was the first in a long line of genetically engineered products to be introduced by Monsanto, a former chemical company.  Monsanto is increasingly focusing on buying seed companies and converting the industry to its own brand of genetically engineered seeds, where qualities of foreign plants or plants and animals are merged to create seeds that can be patented. The company then charges a premium for the seeds and requires farmers internationally to sign user contracts.

More than half of the U.S. soybeans and corn that make up roughly 70 percent of pre-packaged grocery store items come from genetically engineered ingredients. 

Recently, rBGH has been tested on catfish and tilapia to increase growth.,


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