ANNOUNCE: "Agriculture Research Alternatives"
Charles Benbrook (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fri, 25 Feb 1994 01:19:32 -0800
The response over the last 24 hours to my BST posting of 2/24
has been remarkable. Sign of the times. This response is
dedicated to Larry London, in the spirit of civility and with all
due deference to the facts.
I was invited to speak 2/18/94 at a WSAA Brown Bag, on my work
with UNDP. Gabriel H., Sanet czar, was there, and reminded me of
all I was missing on Sanet, so I signed up, and started getting
messages 2/20/94. I called the almanac to get a full print of all
messages over Sanet since its inception, which I went through to
try to catch up on what has been going on. I downloaded several
messages, and several more tonight. Since message # 1 on Sanet
Oct. 1, 1991, there have been 1510 messages, give or take a few.
The first BST posting (# 640) appeared innocently July 16, 1993
from Geoff Benson. Since then, there have been about 60 postings
on BST -- so 1 in about 14.5 postings, or about 3.5 per month
postings have been on BST since 7/16/93. The postings have run in
clusters, 3-6 stimulated by someone's comments. They have been a
reflection of the much broader, more active BST debate underway in
But on Feb. 23, 1994, this pattern of postings was
interrupted. There were 3 BST postings -- the remarkable reprimand
of Lara Wiggert from the NAL Acting Director, and two postings from
extension leaders, both clearly pro-BST and intended to "set the
record straight" that there is no problem and technology shall
march ahead. These postings are worth reading and reflecting upon.
After reading them, I posted a message 2/24 expressing my concern
re recent developments on BST.
I have downloaded nearly all postings on BST since Sanet
began, to see what has transpired, and what Lara Wiggert, the fired
graduate assistant, had committed. I downloaded all her messages,
going back to the first noted in the chronological listing of all
Sanet postings since Oct. 1, 1991.
Lara Wiggert, who I do not know and never heard of until
yesterday, posted about 8 messages on Sanet, beginning, as far as
I can tell, with a posting Oct. 1, 1993 (#862), titled "Physic.
Comm. Resp. Med.". Her second posting (#988), Nov. 16, 1993 was
the first she did on BST. Nov. 19, 1993, a third Wiggert posting
was made (#998), on the topic "Re: BST Approved by FDA (fwd)".
Posting # 1016 was done on Nov. 23, 1993, titled "Sanet posting on
BST". "BST Follow-up comments" was posted (#1033) Dec. 3, 1993.
Wiggert's next posting, on Dennis Avery's comical paper on
biotechnology and world food problems, appeared Jan. 11, 1994.
Wiggert's 3 or so other postings on non-BST matters, that appeared
between January and Feb. 11, 1994 (the date of her last posting)
are also still available as of 2/25/94. All of Wiggert's
apparently objectionable BST postings pass along information from
land grant university/GAO and other studies/sources, and are tame
in comparison to debate in many other fora. In addition, she
apologized online for an error of fact -- referring to increases in
gallons of milk, instead of pounds, and suggested where people
could get more information.
I wonder who decided that Wiggert's tame postings warranted
such a strong response? And why? Wonder if we will ever know.
Why do I care? I am generally interested in government policy
and decision-making in the food-ag-regulatory arena, and have
studied the politics of major developments for a long time. The
BST case is great theater, and could be instructive and fun if
people didn't feel so passionately about it. BST has become a true
test of might, seen by many as a struggle to the death for the
control of the future of the American food system. The decision
made by the government was, given the law and the science, a
difficult public policy call. If BST had reduced mastitis by 15%,
it would have been a win-win. If real world experience tracks the
trial data, and BST use increases mastitis on average 15%, as the
FDA summary suggests, the decision will go down as a monumental
mistake, and will eventually be reversed. The public is not likely
to agree, or grant FDA the authority to approve "safe" drugs that
make cows sick.
Granted, all medicines, and hormones/growth promotants, will
have some adverse side effects. Clearly, FDA's
approval reflects a judgement that an net economic gain to
some dairy farmers (despite economic losses to others,
including some who don't use it) outweighs a "modest" increase in
mastitis. While FDA says it refused to deal with economic and
social issues in its decision, in fact the only way it could reach
a judgement that BST is "effective" is by assessing the net
economic consequences following its adoption. On the basis of its
assessment, it has judged the "net" gains to the dairy industry and
manufacturers as greater than the "net" loss to the public, and the
nation's multi-million annual effort to control/deal with mastitis
and antibiotic use in dairy production.
Hopefully history will prove that one dairy farmer's "net"
gain is not another's loss, nor an unwanted surprise for consumers.
Time will tell, and ultimately we all must hope that the facts and
logic will prevail.
All you BST advocates out there -- it is worth reading some of
the reports available on the special session at the AAAS meeting a
few weeks ago on the human health crisis the medical community and
CDC foresees in the years ahead because of the prevalence of
resistance to all commonly used antibiotics? Their concerns are
relevant to BST public policy issues, as well as to confinement