Monsanto’s plan to dump rBGH called a major milestone

Monsanto Company’s announcement that it was selling its controversial genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH, was hailed as a major milestone in the fight to remove the product from the marketplace, says Rick North, Campaign for Safe Food program director, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This is a strong indication that Monsanto is finding this embattled hormone more trouble than it’s worth. rBGH is proving to be an embarrassment to Monsanto,” he says.

Market rejection
In a press release, Monsanto executive vice-president of strategy and operations Carl Casale said, “While POSILAC (trade name for rBGH) is a strong product for the business, we believe repositioning the business with a strategic owner will allow Monsanto to focus on the growth of its core seeds and traits business while ensuring that loyal dairy farmers continue to receive the value of POSILAC in their operations.”

Despite Casale’s statement supporting rBGH, the market is clearly turning against its use. Over the past few years, increasing numbers of dairy processors and major retailers have banned the use of rBGH in their dairy products, including Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger, Safeway stores in the Northwest, and Publix Super Markets. Most of the milk sold by Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor and distributor, is rBGH-free. Starbucks Company and Chipotle Mexican Grill have also gone rBGH-free.

National Milk Producers Federation spokesman Chris Galen told Reuters that Monsanto's move comes as the trend against rBGH was expanding beyond bottled milk to include cheese products. Kraft Foods recently started promoting a cheese product as rBGH-free. “Processors don’t want it,” Galen said.

North says he doubts whether any company would want to buy rBGH. “It’s hard to imagine anyone in the dairy industry wanting to buy it with so much consumer opposition.”

Monsanto has been fighting a losing battle to force food manufacturers to remove rBGH-free labels from dairy products. The company tried to get the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission to crack down on the labels, but the agencies refused. Monsanto then lobbied—using a front group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology—state governments to pass bills banning the labels, but has had little success.

Animal and human health concerns
Controversy has surrounded rBGH, which is injected into cows to increase milk production, since it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1993.

An estimated 17% of dairy cows in the United States are injected with the hormone, according to 2007 US Department of Agriculture figures.
Monsanto claims that “Supplementing dairy cows with POSILAC safely enhances milk production and serves as an important tool to help dairy producers improve the efficiency of their operations and produce more milk more sustainably..”

While the FDA says the product is safe, many other governments and consumer groups disagree. A report by the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association found that rBGH significantly increases the risks of mastitis, failure to conceive, and lameness in cows.

As a result, Canada refused to approve the use of rBGH, as did the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand

In addition, milk from cows injected with rBGH contains high levels of insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a hormone that’s been linked to prostate and colon cancer.

Nurses’ resolution against rBGH
North says a recent resolution by the American Nurses Association calling for the health care industry to stop purchasing milk produced using rBGH may have had an impact on Monsanto’s decision. “It had to get their attention,” North says. “It’s a clear signal that the market doesn’t want it.”

Other opponents of rBGH hailed Monsanto’s decision. “I think they saw the handwriting on the wall and gave up,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s a major victory for consumers.”

“Consumers are on top of the food chain, and our collective rejection of rBGH has forced Monsanto to abandon this dangerous drug,” says Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and creator of Your Milk on Drugs—Just Say No, a documentary critical of Monsanto and rBGH.

Smith predicts a “tipping point” against Monsanto’s other genetically modified products. “Our research shows that even a short exposure to the now overwhelming evidence of harm from GM crops is sufficient to compel changes to non-GMO brands.”

Despite the victory, North says the fight will continue until rBGH is completely gone from the marketplace. “As long as it’s on the market, the human and animal health dangers remain, whoever owns it. We’re still committed to removing this product from the market,” he says.
(Sources: Reuters, New York Times)

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report September 2008.