The Chemical Soup in Your Cup

— Dr. Pauline Furth

FIFTY CITIES PARTICIPATED in a milk-dumping protest, organized by the Pure Food Campaign, the first week in February. The action marked the one-year anniversary of the federal government’s approval of the "bovine growth hormone" Prosilac.

How much of the milk you drank today was affected by a biologically altered hormone? A ubiquitous product, milk is found not only in the usual carton but in restaurant food, cheese, butter, cream and babies’ food.

Beginning in February 3, 1994 the chemical giant Monsanto was given permission by the federal Food and Drug Administration to market Prosilac, a chemically-altered drug, without requiring labeling.

No one can answer the question. "Caveat Emptor" (Let the buyer beware) cannot apply because we, the consuming public, have no way to distinguish which kind of milk or milk product we are drinking or eating.

Prosilac is a chemical, genetically engineered, synthetic drug injected into lactating cows for the sole purpose of increasing milk production by 15-30%. It is known by various names: BST, Bovine Somatropin, Bovine Growth Hormone, Bovine Recombinant Growth Hormone, BGH. By whatever name, it is a duplication of a growth hormone that is in the pituitary gland of cows (and of all mammals), and is chemically related to insulin.

It is of interest that BST was first understood and given to cows in the Soviet Union in 1936. But not until 1970 was knowledge of DNA sufficient to proceed with the genetic engineering of the product, which cost Monsanto $50-300 million to perfect.

Is its introduction to remedy a lack of natural milk on the market? Obviously not, because there is such a glutted supply that the government pays dairies by buying up the surplus. And increased milk production will cost government and taxpayers huge sums because of the additional amounts produced.

Further, BST is a potential disaster for the increasingly small family farmer. Its only reason is to increase Monsanto’s profits, and is a decided benefit to big agribusiness.

The potential health threats are alarming. Cows are injected twice a week. Repeated studies have shown this practice increases udder infections or "mastitis." This is not only painful (as any breast-feeding mother knows), but increases the bacteria and pus in the milk.

The FDA’s own figures show there will be a 76% increase in mastitis. In turn more and stronger antibiotics must be used so that the milk can pass inspection and be sold. (The antibiotics, too, are passed into the milk.)

Studies have shown that calves born to these cows are often born deformed, and many stillborn. Even the label Monsanto issues to dairies warns of possible increases in udder infections, with stark warnings of possible side effects and offers of free vouchers for veterinary visits.

There is an allowable subclinical bacteria count – a so-called somatic cell count. Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union has warned that this count will increase, leading to milk souring and a decreased shelf life. There already have been recent reports of increased milk-souring.

Making You Sick

Further imminent danger lies in the antibiotic residue increasing the potential for allergies, antibiotic-resistant bacterial disease and generalized gastrointestinal pathologies. Monsanto’s answer to this fear is that there will be testing to detect antibiotic traces. In reality, only penicillin and penicillin-like drugs are now being tested, by inadequate numbers of inspectors – and no provisions have been made to hire additional personnel.

According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO) there are at present eight-two different drugs that farmers use to treat cattle, many of which are illegal. Monsanto used two of the illegal drugs in their experiments (Gentamicin and Terramycin).

There is thus the real and dire prospect of the public ingesting unknown, untested drugs, including illegal, drugs without the ability to trace the source – a flagrant disregard for the public’s right to know.

The role of the FDA is particularly disturbing, having given Monsanto "carte blanche" to market Prosilac. It is not at all surprising, as recently revealed, that some of Monsanto’s former employees now work for the FDA!

As with all drugs prior to marketing, the FDA does not perform its own independent research. The agency only reviews what is provided them by the company ultimately profiting. They have to rely on the company’s competence and honesty. In many instances, this has resulted in long-term disastrous effects, and only then is the drug recalled.

A recent related incident (since it deals with human mastitis) is that of Parlodel (Sandoz company). It is prescribed by doctors to inhibit lactose (milk) production by breast feeding mothers wishing to dry their breasts. It has now been found, after many years of use, to cause heart attacks, seizures, strokes and even death.

Only now is the FDA recalling this drug. And Sandoz (which recently acquired Gerber’s baby foods) hasn’t even complied, still claiming it is safe.

Seemingly, in the case of BST many salient features have not even been investigated. And British researchers have stated that Monsanto had "positively skewed" the data to hide facts harmful to their case. There have been no long term studies on human health.

Dr. Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois states that this hormone increases the level of IGF (insulin-like growth factor). "The breast tissues of female fetuses and infants are sensitive to hormonal influences. IGF may increase future breast cancer risks and sensitivity of the breast to subsequent unrelated risks such as mammography and the carcinogenic and estrogenic effects of pesticide residues in food, particularly in pre-menopausal women."

Another extremely important fact, not considered by the FDA, is that the injected cows need increased-protein feed to sustain increased energy. This different type of feed, containing rendered meal and bones from unmarketable, dead cows, has been shown both here and in England to cause "mad cow disease."

At present there is no known method to adequately sterilize this rendering processed meat. As a result there have been documented cases of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies), a group of neurological diseases, which may include Alzheimer’s.

Religious Muslims and Jews, and vegetarians will consume their milk tainted with meat products, contrary to their religious, moral, ethical and intellectual beliefs. Again without labeling and identification, there is no way for them to trace this affront.

The FDA not only approved no labelling, but has recently warned producers, distributors, retailers against using "Hormone Free" label – and Monsanto is likewise suing a large Midwest producer for using such a label.

In answer to critics, the FDA has stated that the added hormone is a "manageable risk." But there is no compelling reason for the public to take such a "manageable risk," particularly when the risk factor includes spread of allergies, antibiotic resistance and neurological disease – and especially when there is absolutely no known therapeutic value.

Those protesting this outrage include the Consumers Union, the Humane Society, Pure Food Campaign, Dr. Epstein, Bernie Sanders (Congressman from Vermont, Independent).

Those sponsoring BST include the Grocery Manufacturers of America, National Cattleman’s Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and Competitive Enterprise Institute (shades of Dan Quayle). It may seem strange that the Dietetic Association is also in this list, but not after it became known that Monsanto contributed between $50-100,000 to their hotline. Likewise the American Medical Association: Monsanto funded through advertising in their journals.

The Humane Farming Association is planning an ad spoofing the $23 million "Got Milk" campaign with a glass of milk asking "Got Hormones?" Many school districts have voted not to buy hormone-laced milk – notably Berkeley and Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest U.S. school district.

Bernie Sanders has introduced several bills in Congress dealing with the many issues we have discussed here – principally the consumer’s "Right to Know by Labeling – and letting us know what is and what isn’t Hormone-milk" (H.R. 4618).

Sanders sums it all up succinctly, "This new drug that increases milk production makes cows sick, and sick cows require medication, which winds up in our food supply. Yet the farmers who want to advertise they do not use it are being sued."

Monsanto’s BST is just first in a line of genetically engineered food products. Anxiously waiting in the wings are Eli Lilly Co., American Cyanamid, and Upjohn Pharmaceutical Co. Within the past year the federal government has approved nine genetically engineered foods, and denied the need for mandatory labeling.

If chemical agribusiness and the FDA get away with this, our future will hold a veritable Jurassic Park of bio-engineered foods.

ATC 56, May-June 1995