Bovine Growth Hormone

Got Pus?   UW-Madison Sells Tainted rBGH Milk Again…

In celebration of Halloween, UW’s Babcock Hall announced it would no longer bother to certify the dairy products sold on campus as ‘rBGH-free.’  By opening the cafeteria floodgates for contaminated milk from its experimental herds, UW-Madison has once again bowed to the wishes of the biotech industry.  In his 10/30/2001 press release, UW Babcock Hall manager Tom Blattner, asserted ‘we have detected very little consumer concern in recent years about the BST issue’ and further hedged “its getting very difficult for us to obtain the quantity and quality of (certified rBGH-free milk) that we need.’  Both of these statements are outright false given the latest national surveys and the booming organic rBGH-free dairy market.  For those with longer memories, though, UW has just come around full circle – back to the mid 1980s when it was also eagerly selling its ‘franken’ dairy products on campus to unsuspecting students, visitors, and even hospital patients without any warning labels or safety tests.

What’s So Bad About rBGH milk?

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) was one of the first ‘wonder products’ to emerge from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) produced in large fermentation vats by altered E. coli bacteria.  When injected into cows on a routine basis, it boosts milk yields anywhere from 10-25% – hence its nickname “crack for cows.”  Contrary to claims from its proponents, rBGH is not the same as its natural namesake, since it contains extra ‘marker’ amino acids to enable tracking by its corporate owners.  Milk induced by rBGH is also quite different from regular milk – being lower in protein and containing elevated levels of Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), a compound active in humans and highly correlated with certain forms of cancer.  Cows injected with rBGH suffer up to 50% more mastitis (ie. udder infection) leading to higher rates of often illegal antibiotic use.  These drugs in turn find their way into rBGH milk and the fastfood hamburger derived from culled dairy cows.  Over 80 such drugs were found by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in its 1992 study of the U.S. milk supply, yet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)- charged with insuring the quality of our food supply – only tests for a handful.  It takes just one animal on sulfamethazine (a common illegal dairy antibiotic) to contaminate the milk, when pooled, of 70,000 other animals.  Cows on rBGH also ‘burn out’ quickly and require higher protein feed rations, encouraging the dangerous agribusiness practice of livestock cannibalism behind MadCow disease.  Monsanto, the maker of Posilac (its patented rBGH brand), knows full well the dire health consequences to dairy animals, which is why its product warning label goes on for over a page and it happily doles out veterinary coupons.

The FDA ‘rubberstamped’ its approval of rBGH in 1994, a decision that has been disputed by dozens of reputable scientists such as Dr. Samuel Epstein, author of the recently published Got (Genetically Engineered) Milk?  At the time former Monsanto employees were running the FDA, thanks to a cozy revolving door relationship between biotech companies and regulatory agencies.  The U.S. remains isolated in its approval of rBGH, rejected by Canada, the European Union, Australia, and the 100+ nations of the UN’s own Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  When responsible dairy companies tried to certify their suppliers as ‘rBGH-free’ and to label their products accordingly, many were sued by Monsanto for ‘food libel’ and other supposed interstate ‘free trade’ violations.  Consumers frustrated by the lack of explicit ‘rBGH-free’ labeling have been turning to organic milk in droves.  As UW Prof. Brad Barham’s recent rBGH adoption survey revealed, most WI family farmers have also rejected this dubious technology since it is just too capital intensive and hence intrinsically biased towards largescale factory farm operations.

Over half of the state’s dairy farms disappeared under the jaundiced watch of exGov. Tommy Thompson – now ironically Bush’s Health and Human Services Sec. in charge of the FDA.   Beyond rBGH there are several other nails in corporate agribusiness’s would be coffin for the stubborn family farmers and their feisty democratic sensibilities.   Price fixing and market manipulation remain rampant, even after closure of the corrupt Green Bay Cheese Exchange (which stole over $1 billion from farmers and consumers alike between 1988 and 1993 according to UW Prof. Willard Mueller’s 1996 expose).  Farmers now get barely 21 cents of every food dollar, the other 79 cents being siphoned off by corporate processors, distributors, and retailers.   Between 1996 and 1999 WI received over $475 million in federal farm subsidies – yet 53% of this amount went to the top 10% largely agribusiness outfits.   Corporate processors are now importing massive quantities of Milk Powder Concentrate (MPC) to further undercut U.S. dairy producers.  While half of all family farmers earn less than $20,000 per year, the MacMillan family’s operation – Cargill – reported a net worth of $8 billion in 2000.

Why is UW-Madison Pushing Drugs for Monsanto?

Monsanto, Eli Lilly, UpJohn, and American Cyanamid spent over $1 billion on rBGH research projects and field trials at 22 universities involving over 20,000 animals throughout the 1970s and 1980s.  One of the schools receiving massive corporate rBGH handouts was UW-Madison.  In 1986 a Hillsboro dairy farmer, John Kinsman (now president of WI-based Family Farm Defenders), blew the whistle warning Madisonians that they had become guinea pigs for Babcock’s biotech tests.  When students asserted their consumer ‘right to know’ and demanded ‘rBGH-free’ milk on campus, Monsanto public relations flaks and UW College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) deans responded by branding critics ‘eco-terrorists’ and ‘neo-luddites.’  Monsanto was later caught buying free lunches to entice WI farmers to rBGH pep talks as part of UW Extension’s Dairy 2020 Roundtables.  Of course, the real question is why corporate interests have been allowed to run roughshod over the best interests of farmers and consumers at a supposed institution of higher learning.  Perhaps it is time citizens dusted off the land grant mandate and reminded UW-Madison that its research should be in the public interest – not for private profit.