We Must Ban Growth Hormones Until All Questions Are Answered


Madison Capital Times

August 1989




            With the Food and Drug Administration ready to approve the use of genetically engineered growth hormones in cows to boost milk production, concerns 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 in 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 percent, 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 BGH is safe and has 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 BGH 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.  They include increased susceptibility to infection, infertility, loss of fat, heat intolerance and “burnout,” or lactational failure; and severe stress diseases including gastric ulcer and arthritis.   Also, kidney and heart abnormalities have been found in pigs.


            Additionally, BGH is 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, BGH poses grave consumer health risks that have not been investigated by the industry or the FDA.



What can 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 the hormones as industry’s latest unsafe contribution to the brave new world of chemicalized food and mechanized farming.


Samuel Epstein, M.D., is professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Medical Center, Chicago, wrote a recent report on the health risks of BGH.