'banned in Canada, the European Union
and a number of other countries'

" poses major potential health risks for the entire US population."
Professor Sam Epstein

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or Bovine Somatropin (BST), as it is known in the U.S. BST is a genetically engineered copy of a naturally occuring hormone produced by cows. The purpose of rBGH is to enable cows to produce more milk than they normally would. It works by altering gene expression of glucose transporters in the cows mammary gland, skeletal muscle and omental fat. The gene facilitates the repartitioning of glucose to the mammary gland, which in turn produces more milk.

Cows injected with a daily dose of rBGH, under the brand name Posilac are generally expected to increase their milk yield by between 10 and 20 per cent. However, the problems and side-effects associated with rBGH are legion. Such are its actual and potential dangers that it is banned in Canada, the European Union and a number of other countries, despite the best efforts of Monsanto to open those markets.

The U.S.A has used rBGH for some years and it is from there, that we are receiving bad reports. The cows that are treated with the hormone are subject to tremendous stress as a result. Usually a cow produces milk for about 12 weeks after she has calved. Eventually, milk output diminishes and the cow can begin to recover. By injecting rBGH, a farmer can postpone that recovery for another 8 to 12 weeks, substantially increasing the cows milk output, but also rendering her more susceptible to disease1.

For a comprehensive list of the potential ill effects of rBGH on cows, one need look no further than the warning label which the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) requires Monsanto to include in every shipment of Posilac. The label outlines 21 health problems associated with the use of Posilac, including cystic ovaries, uterine disorders, decrease in gestation length and birth weight of calves, increased twinning rates and retained placenta2.

Potentially the most serious problem is the increased risk of mastitis, or inflammation of the udder. A cow with mastitis produces milk with pus in it. Dairies will not accept milk which has an abnormally high somatic cell count (i.e a high proportion of pus), and so mastitis can be a serious source of lost revenue to the dairy farmer. Many farmers seek to treat the problem with antibiotics, but antibiotic residues in milk are suspected of causing health problems in humans who drink it.

Concerned by the potential effects of rBGH, the US National Farmers Union set up a hotline in 1994, for farmers to report any problems associated with Posilac. Hundreds of farmers called the hotline. John Shumway, a New York State dairy farmer, told how he had to replace 50 cows as a result of adverse reactions to Posilac. His estimated losses from the use of rBGH came to about $100,0003. Melvin Van Heel, a Minnesota farmer, experienced abortions, mastitis and open sores in his rBGH treated cows. Steve Schulte reported that his vets bill fell dramatically after he stopped using rBGH. Florida farmer Al Cole lost eight cows and had to cull a further15. Three others later gave birth to deformed calves4.

The NFU has a record of many more complaints. Such is the dissatisfaction, that farmers all over the states are giving up using BGH. In 1995, the NFU reported that "in some areas of the country, farmers are reporting that 60 to 90 per cent or more of the farms that have tried BGH have discontinued its use5.

It is quite clear that it is only Monsanto that benefits from the sale of this perfectly useless product.

"With the complicity of the FDA, the entire nation is currently being subjected to an experiment involving large-scale adulteration of an age old dietary staple by a poorly characterized and unlabelled biotechnology product..... it poses major potential health risks for the entire US population." - Professor Sam Epstein

Hiding damaging information from the public by Steven Gorelick

It took leaked information by a whistleblowing researcher to bring to light severe health and reproductive problems in cows treated with rBGH in a Monsanto commissioned study at the University of Vermont (UVM). Even an investigaton by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) could not prise critical data from UVM and Monsanto1

Three British scientists who analysed data on rBGH for Monsanto found that the hormone was linked to increased pus and bacteria counts in milk- much higher than reported by Monsanto looking at the same data. According to the scientists, Monsanto tried to block publication of their research.2

When an Iowa dairy co-operative decided to advertise that their company "will not knowingly accept milk from BST treated cows" Monsanto filed suit to prevent them from doing so. A milk and icecream company in Waco, Texas was also sued for similarly labelling its products.3 Monsanto lawyers also sent letters to 2,000 retailers warning them against advertising that they carry "rBST-free milk," and sent a 30 page "legal memorandum" with a similar message to 4,000 food processors and dairy co-operatives.4

Two days into Vermonts 1998 legislative session, Monsanto sent a letter to policy-makers threatening to sue the state if a proposed voluntary rBGH labelling bill became law. Governor Howard Dean reversed his earlier support for the bill and instead threatened to veto it.5

Monsanto polishes its image by giving away a tiny portion of the billions it earns to science and mathematics programmes, cultural events and social service projects. Such give aways are not only a small price to pay for an improved public image, they can even help silence dissent, as when the Missouri Botanical Garden, recipient of a $3-million grant toward the construction of a Monsanto Research Centre- pulled copies of the environmental quarterly Confluence from its literature table. The periodicals offence? It claimed that Monsanto had a "poor environmental record."6

  1. Christiansen, Andrew, "Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone: Alarming Tests, Unfounded Approval," available from Rural Vermont, 15 Barre St., Montpelier, VT 05602, USA.
  2. The rBGH Scandals
  3. Rosenfeld, Steven P., "Monsanto Dairies Battle Over Free Speech," The Times Argus (Montpelier, VT), Feb. 22, 1994.
  4. Steyer, Robert, "BST Has the Mail Moving on Ads: Monsanto writes Warning Letters", St. Lois Post- Dispatch, Feb.24,1994.
  5. "Carrying Monsantos Water", Rural Vermont Report, Summer 1998. Governor Dean reversed himself again, reportedly claiming he was sick of "carrying water" for Monsanto, and signed the bill into law.
  6. Berger, Jerry, "Garden Flap", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan.28, 1998.
  1. Rachel's Hazardous Waste News, No.382, March 24,1994.
  2. Kastel, M.A., Down on the Farm: The Real BGH Story, Wisconsin Farmers Union,1995.
  3. Op. cit. 2
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid

Extracts from an article in The Ecologist
Sept/Oct 1998 Vol 28 No 5
by Paul Kingsnorth

edited by Rowena Tollitt dated:- 17 September, 2002