For me, concerns about BST are multiple - not just one more than
Certainly, the testing and safety protocols (for biocide residues
in particular but safety issues in general when a proprietary
product is involved) are inadequate and misleading. It gives me
little comfort to know that it was "government approved" when
considering buying US milk products of any kind to feed to my family.
This issue has been thoroughly discussed in a number of
authoritative sources, including the oft-cited Alternative
Agriculture publication (1989) edited by John Pesek of Iowa State.
The scandals in biocide residue testing are well known. As I recall,
only 18 of the hundreds of approved biocide products have yet been
through an independent testing (retesting) process, for a number of
reasons well discussed by Benbrook in his new book Pest Management at
the Crossroads (1996) and by Wargo in his new book Our Children's
Toxic Legacy (1996). The degree of confidence I have in the safety
of US milk products is further weakened by learning of the
interchange of high level personnel between Monsanto (and others) and
the regulatory level of the USDA. So - "government approved" doesn't
mean much to me anymore.
Second, the history of behavior by proprietary interests when
publishing (or not publishing) the research relating to their
products gives the impression of deceit - whether intended or not.
BST provides a particularly good example, where small sample size in
a number of Monsanto-funded studies prevented the expression of
statistically significant differences in incidence of mastitis.
As I understand it, when an undergraduate student in the UK - with
the assistance of his stats profs - asked for and received the raw
data from Monsanto and reanalyzed it using a pooled estimate of error
(over studies), incidence of mastitis was definitely statistically
significant. When the student (and profs) sought the permission of
Monsanto to publish their results - as is required by most good
journals - they were told that Monsanto's own scientists had already
submitted a similar paper. After waiting a year or two for the paper
to appear, they eventually learned that Monsanto had not, in fact,
submitted such a paper. Monsanto then refused permission to publish
the student's paper, and it was only through a number of efforts that
the paper was eventually published - in Nature I believe. Other
behaviors to suppress critical comment, which I know of
confidentially, again give the impression of something to hide.
Hence, for that particular product, and by inference, other
proprietary products from the same source, I have little reason to
believe the evidence that was used to convince US regulators of the
benign nature of this product.
The issue of mastitis is of particular concern to me - and if I was
going to worry about the actual safety of US milk products, this is
where I'd worry. As I understand it, mastitis incidence is a
significant problem in high producing cows - with or without BST.
The problem is now so severe that many of the 20 or so antibiotic
products that are registered for use on mastitis in dairy cows are no
long effective. As a result, producers (reportedly) are using off
label drugs to treat the problem. Meanwhile, only routine tests of
milk safety are conducted for just 4 of the registered drugs (out of
20 or so), and are NOT conducted for the off-label drugs at all
(because of course, they are not supposed to be used in the first
place). This means that products designed for use in horses or pigs
could be used on dairy cows and could carryover into the human food
chain. And then we wonder why (apart from overprescription for human
use) we keep getting all this antibiotic resistance evolving in
human and other pathogens?! I do not know of *evidence* that
carryover of off-label drugs into milk has occurred - but it is a
plausible and predictable outcome of the dairy producers' dilemma.
Now - bring in BST and the situation worsens, specifically because
the cows are induced to produce yet more milk - and experience yet
more mastitis. Seems like augmenting a known risk, for no reason
that I can justify.
Thirdly, check out Ed Rayburn's excellent chapter in The Dairy
Debate by Bill Liebhardt of Davis. Rayburn goes through a lovely set
of calculations comparing the environmental risks to NY dairy land
from using BST vs. rotational grazing to increase milk production.
If one wants to increase productivity - and I'm not taking that as a
given - then clearly, BST has multiple adverse consequences not
simply for animal health but for soil erosion/degradation, biocide
dependence (to produce the grains required by those high producing
cows), and fossil fuel consumption (vs. CO2 sequestration under grass
sod in the rotational grazing example).
Fourthly - I do not know enough about the actual hormones in the milk
produced from BST injected cows, but there is literature accumulation
in top flight journals suggesting that there may be room for concern
because the GE hormone is not identical to the natural hormone.
Perhaps others more knowledgeable on the subject would wish to
And finally, as someone who is paid for by the public - I work at a
publicly funded university - I consider it my responsibility to try
to help producers do their job (of producing food) in a way that is
economically remunerative to themselves, as well as
being environmentally benign or even beneficial, and condusive to
safe and healthy food products. BST does none of the above. I
have yet to see evidence that the benefits to the individual
producers - on average - of using BST in terms of increased output
per cow exceed the costs of a) increased mastitis (and potentially,
other stress-related maladies, b) reduced productive lifespan of the
cow, and consequent higher replacement costs, c) higher quality feed
requirements during lactation, d) more careful dry herd feeding and
management to recover lost body condition, e) difficulties in cycling
and rebreeding, f) and many other issues that I don't have time to
This post is overlong already, so will close. But I want to be clear
that my avoidance of US milk products is not based on simple fear of
food safety or doubt about testing protocols. There are many issues
that should be of concern to the consumers of US milk products. Ann
Dr. E. Ann Clark
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON N1G 2W1
Phone: 519-824-4120 Ext. 2508
FAX: 519 763-8933
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