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Growth Hormones Would Endanger Milk

Los Angeles Times, Thursday, July 27, 1989: p. 7

With the Food and Drug Administration ready to approve the use of genetically engineered growth hormones in cows to boost milk production, con6erns are mounting among dairy farmers, state legislatures, animal-rights activists and consumer and public-interest groups.

These hormones, known as BGH, are manufactured by giant chemical companies - Monsanto, American Cyanamid, Upjohn and Eli Lilly together with Dow-who anticipate $500-million annual worldwide sales.

Their promotional hype claims that the hormones are natural," that they are not found in milk, that they increase milk yields up to 25%, that they do not harm cows, that they do not alter milk quality and that they are safe for humans. The FDA also agrees that bovine growth hormones are safe and have allowed the sale of unlabeled milk and meat from BGH cows for about five years. These claims, which are based on industry-contracted research at more than 20 U.S. university dairy science departments, are misleading in the extreme.

Apart from the national surplus of milk and anticipated foreclosure of thousands of small dairy farms if milk production is increased and milk prices reduced, the effectiveness of bovine growth hormones is exaggerated. Furthermore, the nutritional quality of milk and cheese is altered; fat is increased and casein decreased. Stress effects have been noted in cows hyper-stimulated by BGH. These include increased susceptibility to infection, infertility, loss of fat, heat intolerance and "burnout" or lactational failure; severe stress diseases including gastric ulcers, arthritis and kidney and heart abnormalities have also been induced in pigs. Additionally, bovine growth hormones are likely to be misused as a growth promoter in calves, pigs and sheep, particularly as there are no practical methods for detecting the hormone in meat, and in view of the abusive track record of the meat industry regarding hormonal and other feed additives.

Apart from economic and veterinary concerns, bovine growth hormones pose grave consumer health risks that have not been investigated by the industry or FDA.

  • Bovine growth hormones are not "natural." The FDA now admits that they are up to "3% different in molecular structure" from the normal hormone. Increased BGH levels in milk and blood have been found in injected cows. BGH and its digested products could be absorbed from milk into blood, particularly in infants, and produce hormonal and allergic effects.
  • Increased levels of cell-stimulating growth factors, apparently identical to those in humans, have been reported in BGH milk. These could induce premature growth and breast stimulation in infants, and possibly promote breast cancer in adults.
  • Increased bacterial infections in BGH cows will require treatment with antibiotics that will pass into milk. This is likely to result in antibiotic-resistant infections in the general population. Also, the stress effects of bovine growth hormones in cows could suppress immunity and activate latent viruses, such as bovine leukemia (Leukosis) and bovine immunodeficiency viruses, which are related to the AIDS complex and may be infectious to humans.
  • Steroids and adrenaline-type stressor chemicals induced in cows by these hormones are likely to contaminate milk and may be harmful, particularly to infants and young children.
  • The fat and milk of cows are already contaminated with a wide range of carcinogenic contaminants, including dioxins and pesticides. Bovine growth hormones reduce body fat and are likely td mobilize these carcinogens into milk, with cancer risks to consumers.

What is to be done? State legislatures should be pressured to ban BGH. The FDA should be petitioned to ban the manufacture, domestic sale and export of the hormones until all safety questions can be resolved. Congressional oversight should focus on industry's misleading and self-interested claims on BGH, and the FDA's regulatory abdication. Finally, consumers should recognize these hormones as industry's latest unsafe contribution to the brave new world of chemicalized food and mechanized farming.

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