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Samuel S. Epstein

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Hormonal Milk and Meat: A Dangerous Public Health Risk

Posted: 04/13/10 11:05 AM ET

As reported in a March 18, New York Times editorial, "Honest Food Labels," FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, M.D., publicized letters to 17 food companies accusing them of -- "masking undesirable ingredients" -- in their products. She also emphasized the importance of "providing nutrition information that consumers can rely on." Unfortunately, she has failed to take any such action with regard to the two major dietary staples, milk and meat.

About 20 percent of our milk is genetically engineered, technically known as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone), which contains high levels of a natural growth factor known as IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor one). This survives digestion and is readily absorbed from the small intestine into the blood. Increased levels of IGF-1 have been shown to increase risks of breast cancer in 19 scientific publications, risks of colon cancer in 10 publications, and prostate cancer in seven publications. Of further concern, increased IGF-1 levels block natural defense mechanisms against early microscopic cancers, known as apoptosis.

It should further be noted the scientific evidence for the dangers of rBGH milk is dealt with in detail in my 2006 book, What's In Your Milk? supported by approximately 200 scientific references. Endorsers of the book include Representative John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Quentin D. Young, Chairman of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group and Public Health Advocate, State of Illinois.

Based on these concerns, on June 3, 1999, the United Nations Food Safety Agency, representing 101 nations worldwide, ruled unanimously not to endorse or set safety standards for rBGH milk. Effectively, this has resulted in an international ban on US milk.

Also based on these concerns, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, endorsed by five leading national experts, petitioned the FDA in May 2007 to label rBGH milk with an explicit cancer warnings. In the absence of any response, we resubmitted this petition in January 2010 to Dr. Hamburg, and are waiting for a response.

US cattle are implanted with natural or synthetic sex hormones prior to entering feed lots 100 days prior to slaughter in order to increase their meat yield. Not surprisingly, our meat is contaminated with high levels of sex hormones. Based on these concerns, and as warned by the Cancer Prevention Coalition and five leading national experts, our meat poses increased risks of hormonal cancers, which have escalated since 1975: breast by 23 percent, prostate by 60 percent, and testis by 60 percent. Not surprisingly, US meat is banned worldwide.

Furthermore, as clearly evidenced in a series of General Accounting Office investigations and Congressional hearings, the FDA, besides the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have failed to take any regulatory action to protect the public from the dangers of hormonal meat. A 1986 report, "Human Food Safety and Regulation of Animal Drugs," unanimously approved by the House Committee on Government Operations, concluded that the "FDA has consistently disregarded its responsibility -- has repeatedly put what it perceives are interests of veterinarians and the livestock industry ahead of its legal obligation to protect consumers -- jeopardizing the health and safety of consumers meat, milk, and poultry."

In response to questions on the dangers of hormonal meat raised by the European Commission in February 1996, the USDA responded with unsubstantiated claims that less than 0.25 percent of animals tested annually proved positive for "residue violations." In fact, meat has not been and is still not monitored for sex hormone levels by the USDA or FDA.

Together with other leading scientific experts, on January 29, 2010, the Cancer Prevention Coalition submitted a Citizens Petition to the FDA on the "Imminent health Hazard" from hormonal meat, supported by 59 scientific references. We are waiting for a response.

Not surprisingly, U.S. milk and meat are banned in some leading countries.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
email: epstein@uic.edu
www.preventcancer.com
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