The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 74.0°F | Mostly Cloudy


What’s That In My Milk?

Michael Borucke

Monsanto is a chemical giant; we all know that. Their far-reaching presence can be felt not only on American farms with the genetically altered (and absolutely unnecessary) Roundup soybeans, but across the world as well. During the Vietnam War, Monsanto, along with five other chemical companies, supplied the United States with a generous amount of Agent Orange to dump on the forests of Vietnam.

Of course, what Monsanto didn’t want people to know is that dioxins are the most toxic substances known to humans, that the dioxin level of the Agent Orange sent to Vietnam was 1,000 times more concentrated than in domestic herbicides. And Monsanto really didn’t want people to know that the 11 million gallons of Agent Orange dropped on peasants and soldiers alike were responsible for the awful deformities, sicknesses, and cancers after the war. Monsanto went to great lengths to prevent any link between health and dioxins when a lawsuit was brought against the company in the early eighties. Monsanto ended paying a nominal out-of-court settlement so that no potentially damaging information (to Monsanto) could be brought to light. Further research has since established the danger of human and environmental exposure to dioxins. Well, glad that’s over.

But it’s not. Monsanto is again in the business of repressing pertinent information about their harmful products. Yes, now Monsanto is trying to halt any attempt for information regarding bovine growth hormone to be disseminated to the public.

Two distinguished investigative reporters, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, were hired in 1996 by Fox News in Tampa to file a report about the controversial recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). The story contained several incriminating facts about rBGH and its effects on human and bovine health, as well as Monsanto’s efforts to keep these facts suppressed. Somehow, Monsanto became aware of the content of the story and wrote Fox urging them not to air the story as it was. The report was then pulled, two days before it was to be broadcast, at which point Fox’s executives asked the two reporters to rewrite the story. The executives, unhappy with any of the reporters’ 80 revisions, wrote their own watered-down version of the original story. Included in the final revision is the replacement of the word “cancer” with the phrase “human health effects.” Not quite doublespeak -- but a good effort nonetheless. The executives then offered two reporters a bribe to keep silent about the changes made to their report, which the reporters refused.

Evidently, Monsanto didn’t want information about the health risks of their product to be known to consumers. Of course, what company would? Still, Monsanto hasn’t threatened me yet (or paid me off, for that matter) so I have no qualms in discussing their truly criminal behavior.

In the eighties, Monsanto developed a bovine growth hormone that could indirectly increase milk production by stimulating another hormone called Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1, or IGF-1. It is this second hormone that stimulates the milk production in cows. The problem is that humans naturally have the IGF-1 hormone in their bodies; it is exactly the same IGF-1 hormone as is found in cows and it is not destroyed by pasteurization. So every time people drink milk from an rBGH-injected cow, they increase the amount of active IGF-1 hormone in their system, among other things. Cows injected with rBGH are more likely to develop an infection of the udder known as mastitis, causing pus to accumulate in the milk. The infection must then be treated with antibiotics that end up in the milk along with the pus and the IGF-1 hormone.

What could an increase of a hormone that stimulates cell production mean to the average person? There have in fact been plenty of studies that link higher levels of IGF-1 hormone with increased risk of cancer. One such study was conducted at Harvard University. In a sample of 15,000 white males, those with IGF-1 levels in the range of 300ng/mL-500ng/mL were four times more likely to develop prostate cancer that those with IGF-1 levels in the range of 100ng/mL-185ng/mL. Other research suggests potential links between increased IGF-1 hormone in the body and an increased likelihood of breast, colon, pancreatic, and lung cancers.

You would think that the FDA had already investigated the links between increased IGF-1 in the system and increased growth in cells before it was approved for general use -- before they allowed us to consume milk with increased IGF-1. This was not the case, however. The FDA approved rBGH in the early nineties for commercial use amid very suspect circumstances. Most studies by the FDA require tests on several hundred rats for at least two years before approval can be granted. The bovine growth hormone was tested for 90 days on just 30 rats. Actually, the study was 180 days, but Monsanto has kept hidden the files regarding the last 90 days. Why? Towards the end of the first 90-day period, rats were experiencing 46 percent increases in their spleen size, which is a good indicator of cancer. To this day, the study in the latter 90 days has never been open to peer review.

Were improved research techniques responsible for rBGH’s rapid approval? How about a sudden sympathy for the rats? Recombinant bovine growth hormone was approved so quickly simply because employees of Monsanto (namely, Monsanto’s attorney, Michael Taylor) went to work for the FDA, approved the hormone and then went back to work for Monsanto.

Well, just let me know what milk comes from cows injected with rBGH and what milk is “rBGH-free,” and the problem is solved, right? No. Monsanto has a vested interest in making sure you know nothing of the origins of the milk you drink. They’ve fought tooth and nail against rBGH labeling by suing dairy farms that label their milk “rBGH-free.” And Monsanto has been winning. They’ve paid members of Congress to kill bills that would require “rBGH-free” labeling. They’ve even gotten the FDA (read: Michael Taylor) to regulate against “rBGH-free” labeling.

Why do you have a right to know what you drink? If you did, it could damage Monsanto and by all means, don’t hurt Monsanto. Feed the public potentially cancerous food, but for gosh sakes maintain the profit margin.

What does all this mean to you? Do you stop drinking milk now? Do you accept the fact that companies like Monsanto are putting things into your food you don’t want, need, or know about just for their profit? Are you a little weary that the FDA is controlled by the very people it is supposed to regulate? Welcome to the politics of the biotech industry. Long live Monsanto.