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A couple of years ago, I wrote:

Got milk?

If so, maybe you also got hormones and antibiotics you didn’t know about or want. Food and Water Watch sent me an e-mail about a hormone many dairy producers use:

Known as rBGH or rBST, the genetically engineered hormone is injected into cows to make them produce more milk. Besides the documented increase of infections in dairy cows injected with rBGH, which necessitates increased use of antibiotics, there are ongoing questions about links to cancer in humans.  As a result, most of the industrialized countries in the world don’t allow the use of this hormone, including Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and all 27 countries in the European Union.

At the time, Monsanto, having lost its bid to get the Federal Trade Commission to stop dairy farmers from advertising their milk as rBGH free, was trying (unsuccessfully) to get laws passed in several states, including Missouri, to wrap adhesive tape around the mouths of dairy farmers who do the job right. Monsanto believes in doing the job wrong. It believes in putting cows’ health at risk to force them to produce more milk at a time when we’re so awash in milk that the U.S. government has been buying up surplus to prevent a collapse of the market.

Just how wrong was the way it wanted to do it?

Monsanto acknowledges that the possible side effects of rBST for cows include lameness, disorders of the uterus, increased body temperature, digestive problems, and birthing difficulties. Veterinary drug reports note that “cows injected with Posilac are at an increased risk for mastitis,” an udder infection in which bacteria and pus may be pumped out with the milk. What’s the effect on humans? The F.D.A. has consistently said that the milk produced by cows that receive rBGH is the same as milk from cows that aren’t injected: “The public can be confident that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to consume.” Nevertheless, some scientists are concerned by the lack of long-term studies to test the additive’s impact, especially on children. A Wisconsin geneticist, William von Meyer, observed that when rBGH was approved the longest study on which the F.D.A.’s approval was based covered only [on] a 90-day laboratory test with small animals. “But people drink milk for a lifetime,” he noted. Canada and the European Union have never approved the commercial sale of the artificial hormone. Today, nearly 15 years after the F.D.A. approved rBGH, there have still been no long-term studies “to determine the safety of milk from cows that receive artificial growth hormone,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union. Not only have there been no studies, he adds, but the data that does exist all comes from Monsanto. “There is no scientific consensus about the safety,” he says.

In a way, it’s all moot as far as Monsanto is concerned because the company sold Posilac, the brand name for the rBGH supplement, to Eli Lilly in 2008. But as late as last July, the Monsanto website was still making a deal out of how ill used it has been by the false advertising of some dairy farmers. Because guess what those brazen people did. They labeled their milk “rBGH free.” That’s it. How dare they imply with such slanted language that there’s something wrong with rBGH? The chutzpah.

The site says:

Unfortunately in an effort to profit from unfounded fears, many milk processors have labeled their milk to suggest that milk from cows treated with rBST [another term for rBGH] is harmful, or somehow different from milk from untreated cows. We stand by the safety of our products. Therefore we do support legislation requiring that milk labeling be COMPLETE and ACCURATE. We are not alone in this goal. Labeling guidelines published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration state that labels claiming the milk is “not from cows treated with RBST` should also contain the statement that “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows”. It is a simple matter of honesty in labeling.

Fair enough. As long as the dairy farmers in question are also allowed to reprint the paragraph above about pus in the milk and 90 days studies that come from Monsanto itself. Think they could fit that on the milk bottle?