iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Christine Escobar

Christine Escobar

Posted: March 3, 2009 04:01 AM

The Tale of rBGH, Milk, Monsanto and the Organic Backlash

What's Your Reaction:

Organic milk is now as readily available as conventional milk as more consumers and companies are recognizing its benefits and demand. A recent estimate by the USDA, says organic products are now available in nearly 20,000 natural food stores and nearly 3 of 4 conventional grocery stores.

If you and/or your children drink organic milk, you've already heard about rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), which may have prompted you to switch from conventional milk to organic milk in the first place.

Organic milk is produced by cows who eat feed free of animal by-products from slaughter, and free of antibiotics, pesticides and hormones, like rBGH.

Though it's use is banned in Europe and Canada, rBGH is a genetically engineered hormone that was approved for use in the U.S. in 1993 by the Food and Drug Administration.

In other words, it hasn't always been in our food supply. And it doesn't deserve a place in it now.


Just what is so bad about rBGH anyway?

Cows injected with rBGH produce milk under severe physical and mental strain from cramped quarters. They're subject to more disease and antibiotic resistance from repeated use of antibiotics by handlers hoping to quell chronic infection like mastitis, (an infection of the milk ducts that in nursing human moms can be highly painful). RGBH has also been linked to reproductive problems in cows.  

In humans, studies indicate milk from cows treated with rBGH may contain elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IFG-1), which can increase the risk of breast cancer and other types of cancer.

Where did rBGH come from?

RGBH was first developed by the agricultural biotech corporation Monsanto to increase milk output in dairy cows. Monsanto's production history includes the notoriously dangerous Agent Orange, PCB, Terminator seed:  a sterile seed forcing farmers to purchase additional seed each year, Roundup: one of the most commonly used pesticides worldwide, and the pesticide DDT.

In Illinois, Monsanto is currently being sued for a lengthy history of toxic environmental pollution in the tiny town of Sauget, where a Monsanto plant has stood for years. Residents of the town who filed the suit say the company's factories have released PCB and other toxic chemicals into the environment around the town for over 70 years.

As William Spain of the Wall Street Journal describes, "the village was created to offer Monsanto a tax- and regulation-free dumping location at a time when environmental rules existed mainly at the local level." 

The Center for Global Food Issues, funded in part by Monsanto, assists the fight to label organic milk with the "Milk is Milk" website, which attempts to refute the healthfulness of organic milk.

Through the years, Monsanto has also received help from the FDA. One example of that connection: Michael R. Taylor, now a professor at George Washington School of Public Health once worked for the FDA, later represented Monsanto as a lawyer, then went back to the FDA installed as Deputy Commissioner for Policy when rBGH was granted approval.

An excerpt from a 1998 article in The Ecologist magazine details Taylor's journey and its significance:
"In March 1994, Taylor was publicly exposed as a former lawyer for the Monsanto corporation for seven years. While working for Monsanto, Taylor had prepared a memo for the company as to whether or not it would be constitutional for states to erect labeling laws concerning rBGH dairy products. In other words. Taylor helped Monsanto figure out whether or not the corporation could sue states or companies that wanted to tell the public that their products were free of Monsanto's drug."

Of course, Monsanto and the dairy industry lobbying collective International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), would love for consumers to believe rBGH is harmless and that labeling it in food is unnecessary.

The IDFA's "organic milk FAQ page" highlights a feeble link to the American Dietetic Association's position on organic foods as firm proof of non-existent health benefits to eating organic. But wouldn't you know, this is the same American Dietetic Association dispensing nutritional advice and proudly displaying its major corporate sponsorship-- sponsorship that includes soft-drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. (Not exactly the most nutritious beverage choices.)

What can consumers do about the organic milk backlash?


First, make a point to avoid non-organic dairy. See this page by D.C. nonprofit Food and Water Watch   for a list of local organic dairy producers in your area. There you can also view a listing of mail order companies that will deliver organic dairy to your door.

Second, contact your favorite dairy brands not already using organic milk and urge them to do so. Continually research the ingredients in the food you and your family eat and continue to question the additives.

Finally, help ensure that all children receiving milk at school have access to organic milk through the Child Nutrition Act (up for renewal again in 2009), by asking Congress to include language clarifying that schools in every district have the option to choose organic milk for their students.

 

Follow Christine Escobar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenparentchgo