by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
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Blowing the Whistle on rBGH:Dairy Farmers and Monsanto employees Speak Out
What compelled Sam Epstein to write GOT (Genetically Engineered) MILK!
From March 1989, I started receiving a series of phone calls from dairy farmers, mainly in the mid-west, inquiring about possible consumer risks of genetically-engineered or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) milk to all of which I had to plead ignorance. The most memorable call came from a farmer who met my response with an irate comment to the effect that: If it makes my cows sick, their milk will also make people sick, so it’s damn well your job to find out about it. This wake-up call was my introduction to rBGH.
I soon discovered that as early as 1985, Monsanto had become aware of possible negative consumer reactions to the word hormone, and had attempted to change the name rBGH to the more neutral bovine somatotropin, rBST. However, this was too late in the U.S. as the term rBGH had already become well-established in the promotional and scientific literature. This was not, however, the case in Canada and Europe where the name rBST was readily accepted and so remains.
I first checked all major public health and medical journals and found no reference to any studies on possible human risks from rBGH milk. I then reviewed the 1987 and 1988 supplements of the Journal of Dairy Science. These contained numerous publications, virtually all by Monsanto or other rBGH industries and their indentured scientists in some 20 nationwide land grant colleges and universities, reporting results on some 60 milk production trials dating back to 1985. While abstracts of these publications were invariably highly reassuring with regard to the veterinary safety of rBGH, analysis of their texts and data, however, revealed a very different picture. Most of the trials were based on fewer than 10 cows, thus minimizing their statistical significance. Also, the data on health effects were sparse and almost incidental to milk production, to the complete exclusion of any long term, multi-lactational, and multi-generational safety studies. In spite of these limitations and the gross insensitivity of the trials, analysis of their underlying data revealed a high incidence of mastitis and reduced fertility, apart from major changes in the nutritional quality and composition of milk. By the time I had completed reviewing these trials, it had become clear that Monsanto, and the other rBGH industries (Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, Upjohn, and American Cyanamid), had not only monopolized the research field and publications on rBGH but had also suppressed or manipulated evidence on its adverse veterinary effects. The FDA’s complicity was evidenced by their explicit assurances on the safety of rBGH milk, which was falsely claimed to be identical with natural milk. The FDA’s complicity was compounded by its decision to allow the sale of rBGH milk, since the inception of large scale milk production trials in 1985, to the unknowing public in the total absence of any questions, let alone studies, on human safety, particularly routine toxicological tests on rBGH milk and its altered ingredients and contaminants.
Of particular concern in this connection was evidence from sparse publications, unrelated to the industry trials, of elevated levels in rBGH milk of IGF-1, a natural growth factor whose levels are under control of natural growth hormones, whether bovine (BGH) or human (HGH). This raised a red flag in relation to cancer risks, particularly as converging lines of evidence in the endocrinology and cancer literature had already incriminated IGF-1 as a critical factor in the promotion of breast cancer.
Based on these considerations, I went public with a July 1989 editorial in the Los Angeles Times, followed by a report to the FDA outlining the basis of my public health, and veterinary concerns. The FDA’s response was non-substantive and replete with misstatements and frank misrepresentations.
By then, it had become clear that U.S. consumers were faced with the imminent prospect of the replacement of natural milk by rBGH milk, with its suspect or known hazards apart from the absence of any routine safety studies. I then decided to systematize my concerns and prepare a fully referenced and detailed scientific publication for submission to the leading international peer-reviewed public health journal, the International Journal of Health Services, which was published in January 1990.
While awaiting publication, a large box with no sender’s name or identification arrived at my office towards the end of October. To my amazement, it contained an extensive set of “Company Confidential” Monsanto files, presumably leaked from the FDA. These files provided details on a wide range of critical adverse health effects, all at striking variance with explicit contrary industry and FDA assurances, as detailed in my article co-authored by Peter Hardin in The Milkweed, January, 1990. These effects included: high levels of rBGH in treated milk; serious pathology in rBGH injected cows; a high incidence of reproductive failure; and the use of illegal drugs to treat mastitis and other adverse effects in rBGH cows. I then forwarded selected rBGH files to Cong. Conyers, then Chairman of the House Committee on Government Operations who, on the basis of their detailed investigation, charged Monsanto and the FDA with conspiring to manipulate critical health data, notwithstanding contrary public assurances. These confidential files posed further evidence of white collar crime, with which Monsanto besides other chemical industries, had been charged in my 1979 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Hearings on White Collar Crime (H.R. 4973). This testimony documented evidence of Monsanto’s suppression of health and safety data on nitrilotriacetic acid, a proposed substitute for phosphate detergents, which I had documented while working as a consultant to the U.S. Senate Committee on Public Works in 1970. Similar concerns relate to Monsanto’s subsequent track record with regard to other carcinogens including acrylonitrile and Agent Orange.
Since the inception of the Cancer Prevention Coalition in 1994, my interests on the hazards of rBGH milk have extended from the scientific to include frank advocacy, an essential mission of public health. This monograph is a compilation of all my writings in both the scientific and advocacy aspects of rBGH from 1989 to 2000. It is also responsive to an ongoing stream of requests over the last decade for reprints or copies of my various writings.
The critical role of a wide range of public interest and citizen groups and their coalitions is also fully acknowledged; surprisingly, mainstream environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council have remained largely uninvolved. The monograph also provides disturbing details on Monsanto’s promotional and defensive strategies. Of particular note, these include harassment and intimidation of critical scientists, aided by a Dairy Council “hit squad,” and strong influences on trade policy involving “revolving door” relationships with the White House, Congress, regulatory agencies, and the Geneva-based Food and Agriculture/World Health Organization’s industry and regulatory dominated Joint Expert Committees on Food Additives.
It is of particular interest to emphasize that rBGH milk is a genetically engineered (GE) food, a fact not generally recognized by the public, let alone most citizen and consumer advocacy groups that have played such a critical role in the fight against rBGH, and also such national and international groups fighting against non-milk GE foods and ingredients. The hormone itself is unarguably a GE variant of normal BGH with distinct molecular, chemical, and immunological differences. Additionally, rBGH milk differs from natural milk in a wide range of parameters including nutritional, biochemical, pharmacological, immunological and hormonal, besides being contaminated with the GE hormone itself, excess levels of IGF-1 including a highly potent variant, and sometimes pus and antibiotics.
So what is the bottom line of this monograph’s saga? First and foremost, shoppers should avoid, if not boycott, all milk and dairy products in favor of those which are certified as rBGH-free. Supermarkets failing to sell these safer products should be pressured by individual consumers and consumer groups to make them freely available. Second, Monsanto’s and the FDA’s reckless two-decade track record of frank manipulation and suppression of health and safety data on GE milk sends the strongest possible warning to reject similar “trust assurances” on the safety of non-milk GE foods -- soy, corn, and other whole and processed foods and ingredients. These concerns are compounded by the total absence of any long-term safety testing of these GE products by Monsanto and other biotech industries, as is the case with rBGH, and emerging independent evidence on their grave and possibly irreversible public health and environmental hazards.
Introduction to GOT(Genetically Engineered) Milk!
by Ben & Jerry Greenfield
Cofounders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream
Since the earliest days in the fight to keep rBGH out of the food supply, Dr. Samuel Epstein was the authoritative voice in the wilderness who, unlike the Food and Drug Administration, was warning the public about the ill effects of rBGH. He was criticized and belittled in the scientific community then, but now his way of thinking is gaining widespread acceptance.
From every vantage point save one, the genetically-engineered artificial growth hormone rBGH is a bad idea, a conclusion we reached back in 1993 when the FDA approved it. In our view, rBGH is a bio-technological solution to a problem that does not exist.
rBGH is not needed to increase America's supply of dairy products. Over supply by factory farms is a problem, not an answer.
rBGH is not needed to improve the health of dairy cows. The manufacturer's own label warns that the growth hormone can triggers adverse side effects that harm cows.
rBGH is not needed to help family farmers. Their costs already are too high, without another artificial chemical to buy. And the artificial hormone makes cows sick, leading to higher costs for veterinary care and antibiotics.
Its sole benefit is to enrich the coffers of the drug company that makes it and the corporate farms that use it.
Because of the harm to cows and family farms, Ben & Jerry's took a stand against its use. The family farmers of the St. Albans Cooperative from whom we get all our milk and cream pledge not to use rBGH on their cows. We wanted to educate our customers on rBGH issues and inform them that our suppliers don't use it. That didn't sit well with the proponents of this drug, and we were forbidden by three states from making these consumer-right-to-know statements.
Along with Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley, Ben & Jerry's sued to preserve our right, and the right of every other food manufacturer, to label our products rBGH-free. We won, and now consumers can look on food labels and make an informed choice as to whether they want dairy products made with or without artificial growth hormones.
As a food company reliant on Vermont's family farms, we have strong views on these agricultural and consumer issues. We have followed the regulatory review of rBGH across the border in Canada, where concerns about possible human health impacts were raised. The Canadians said no to rBGH. With this new book, our friend Sam Epstein brings together the scientific evidence of the threats to human health by rBGH -- yet another chilling aspect of this unnecessary chemical.
Our thanks go to Dr. Epstein for this very useful compilation. It will contribute to the debate and help regulatory decision-makers see the error of their rush to judgement in approving this unnecessary and harmful drug.
As Arthur Schopenhaur said, "There are three steps in the revelation of any truth: in the first, it is ridiculed; in the second, resisted; in the third, it is considered self-evident." May Dr. Epstein's work help move us to the realization of that truth.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream
Forward to GOT (Genetically Engineered) Milk!
by John Hagelin, Ph.D.
• President, University of World Peace
Dr. Samuel Epstein is a rare specimen of a dwindling species: a scientist with a conscience. While so many molecular biologist have been swept up by the flood of biotechnology, with its allure of money and world-transforming technology, Dr. Epstein has maintained his scientific objectivity. Against the tide of inflated claims and excessive media hype, he has stood his ground. And his book is a wake-up call, alerting us to the extensively documented health risks of genetically engineered (GE) rBGH milk-and the dangers of a government firmly in the grip of biotech special interests. It is also a wake-up call to the U.S. public who have been misled by the "trust us" assurances of Monsanto and other biotech industries on the safety of GE food, especially in the absence of published scientific evidence.
In the tradition of The Silent Spring by Rachael Carson, Dr. Epstein highlights the very real dangers of genetic engineering. Epstein presents unequivocal evidence linking the consumption of rBGH milk to increased risks of breast, colon, and prostate cancer-and clearly documents the suppression of this crucial data by the FDA, Monsanto, and a roll-over mainstream media, suppression which he characterizes as "white collar crime."
Genetic engineering, or "recombinant DNA technology", is a radical new technology for transferring fragments of DNA, and their associated genetic characteristics, from one species to another. It has been used thus far primarily for agriculture-for the creation, patenting and commercializing of genetically modified living organisms. For example, the splicing of a flounder gene which produces a blood "antifreeze" protein into tomatoes, to render them frost resistant; or creating corn endowed with its own built-in pesticides.
Already, more than 60% of the foods on our grocery store shelves contains genetically modified ingredients-from infant formula to corn chips. None of these foods have been safety tested on humans, and none are labeled. Hence most Americans are eating these foods without knowing it, despite unique health risks posed by these experimental foods. Some scientists believe this experimental food technology will lead to abundant harvests, and thus help feed our expanding world population.
Others believe genetic engineering is one of the most dangerous technologies ever developed, and if we do not create proper safety guidelines for the release of genetically altered organisms into the fields and the market, the world's food supply will be irreparably damaged. As a nuclear physicist, I have witnessed first-hand the hasty commercialization of nuclear technologies, technologies that have brought severe health risks and even threatened mankind with annihilation. I am similarly concerned that the short-term financial interests of a few biotech firms are forcing the hasty commercialization of equally dangerous genetic technologies.
Throughout the world, heated debates on the health and environmental risks of genetically engineered foods are raging. The Canadian government has banned rBGH milk, and the European Union has mandated that all genetically engineered foods be clearly labeled. Yet in the US there has been a near press blackout, with newspapers featuring mainly positive stories about biotechnology and its promise to humanity.
Now, finally, Dr. Epstein breaks the silence, presenting compelling scientific evidence of the dangers of genetically engineered foods, and in particular, of genetically engineered milk (rBGH/BST).
Dr. Samuel Epstein is a renowned scientist and humanitarian, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the Illinois School of Public Health, and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and author of some 260 scientific publications and 10 books. He is the leading international scientific authority on the causes and prevention of cancer. He is also the leading critic of the U.S. cancer establishment, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, besides similar establishments worldwide, for their indifference to cancer prevention and fixation on damage control - diagnosis and treatment - and gene therapy, with indifference or even hostility towards cancer prevention.
Epstein's contributions in these areas have been recently recognized by his 1998 Right Livelihood Award (better known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize"), and his 2000 Project Censored Award (better known as the "Alternative Pulitzer Prize" for investigative journalism) for his 1999 publication critiquing the American Cancer Society. In Dr. Epstein's highly commendable scholarly work he provides extensive documentation on the grave health risks of GE milk. He also provides clear, shocking evidence of our government's efforts to cover up evidence of the dangers of GE milk.
In 1989, Dr. Epstein began writing a series of editorials, letters to Congress and federal agencies, and articles in newspapers, press releases, and also held a series of press conferences on the dangers of GE milk. In spite of this evidence, rBGH was approved by the FDA in November, 1983 for injecting cows to boost their milk production. The hormone is now manufactured in Austria, and marketed worldwide by Monsanto, besides other US biotech companies. These biotech companies and the FDA still persist in their claims that GE is natural and completely safe.
Yet Dr. Epstein's research, published in leading international peer-reviewed scientific journals, has clearly shown that milk from cows injected with rBGH is entirely different, qualitatively and quantitatively,
from natural milk. Moreover, consumption of GE milk increases the risks of breast, colon, prostate, and other cancers in humans. Epstein clearly documents the harmful, carcinogenic effects of this supposedly "natural and safe" GE milk-and the industry's and FDA's attempts to suppress evidence of these life-threatening effects.
Dr. Epstein has faced fierce opposition and vilification from industry for his bold and principled stance on genetic engineering. Monsanto and other biotech corporations have countered with multi-million dollar ad campaigns designed to paint Epstein and other food safety as "radicals." Yet Dr. Epstein has stood his ground.
Recall that when Rachael Carson wrote her book on the environmental and health risks of DDT in 1962, she was derided as a fanatic by industry and complicit federal agencies. Today, DDT is banned in the US (though American corporations continue to profit by selling DDT abroad). Carson's book helped spark the environmental movement and the awakening of America to the dangers of pesticide abuse, areas in which Dr. Epstein has played a major role. Epstein's 1978 The Politics of Cancer and his 1998 The Politics of Cancer Revisited has similarly galvanized public awareness on the industrial causes of the modern cancer epidemic. Now, in this latest book, Epstein is awakening millions to the dangers of genetic engineering.
As a scientist, I am equally concerned about the unique environmental risks posed by genetic engineering-in particular, the gene pollution that results from breaking down genetic barriers put in place by Nature. Biotechnology produces living organisms that could never have emerged in a natural environment-for example, food crops with insect, bacterial, or viral characteristics. Biotechnologists have embarked on an ambitious, relentless campaign to rewrite the Earth's genetic library. Yet the long-term ecological impact of even one man-made, genetically engineered organism released into the environment have not been the subject of a single study-and are, in fact, incalculable.
Whereas a nuclear disaster releases radioactive pollutants that remain deadly toxic for thousands of years, gene pollution caused by genetic engineering is forever-self-perpetuating and irreversible.
That is why I have called for a moratorium on the release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment. That is why I have drafted legislation calling for mandatory labeling and safety testing of genetically engineered foods. This legislation is now making its way through the US Congress under the bold sponsorship of Congressman Denis Kucinich of Ohio and Senator Barbara Boxer of California.
And that is why I helped found the Natural Law Party, a grassroots political movement dedicated to sustainable government-to policies and programs in harmony with natural law. This party has quickly become the fastest growing political party in America, with thousands of citizen candidates (non-politicians and non-lawyers) running for federal, state and local offices, on the ballot in all 50 states.
In 1999, the Natural Law Party supported a nation-wide grass-roots campaign to alert the American public of the dangers of genetically engineered foods and collected over 600,000 signatures protesting the use of rBGH milk and other genetically engineered foods.
In the 2000 US campaign, NLP candidates will run in almost every congressional district. These candidates will challenge their Republican and Democratic incumbents as to where they stand on labeling and safety testing. Do they stand for the people they were elected to represent, who overwhelmingly support labeling and safety testing? Or do they stand for the corporate biotech lobbyists who are bankrolling their campaigns? In this way, I hope, the pressure of public opinion and the need for votes will shame our Congress into responsible action-a Congress that, until now, has been a co-conspirator in the GE food revolution.
Ultimately, the future of America belongs to us, the voters. Because no matter how much biotech financed media hype is thrown at us during a political campaign, ultimately it is we who vote-it is we who choose our elected leadership.
So if Dr. Epstein's astonishing book frustrates and upsets you, as it truly should, then remember-we hold the reigns of authority in this country. We elected our Republican and Democratic government-bought and paid for by special interest groups. And we can de-elect them. It's time we did.
John Hagelin, Ph.D.
President, University of World Peace
Presidential Candidate, Natural Law Party