Florida Consumer Action Network... Regarding the Use of rBGH

My name is MJ Williamson and I work on pesticide and food safety issues for the Florida Consumer Action Network. FCAN is a non-profit group that does political work on consumer and environmental issues. I am a long time vegetarian and part time vegan, so I was aware of the controversy around Monsantoís Posilac even before I came to work with FCAN in 1993 - the year rBGH won approval by the FDA.

As a consumer rights organization, FCAN has some serious concerns about the use of rBGH in dairy herds. These fall into three categories: First, there appears to be no net benefit to consumers from the use of rBGH. Dairy farmers are encouraged to add rBGH to their regimen to increase the productivity of their herds - Iíve seen claims that productivity can be increased by as much as 30%. You could reasonably expect that this would cause milk to become even more affordable for families in the grocery store. But since rBGH milk entered the US markets in early 1994, we havenít really seen this happen. Apparently this is because farmers themselves arenít seeing improved profitability when they choose to use rBGH. DAIRY TODAY published a survey of 400 dairy farmers in 1995 that found that 40% of dairy farmers who tried rBGH gave it up. "Didnít improve profits" was the reason most frequently cited by farmers who gave up use of rBGH - it seems that cows on rBGH eat more than untreated cows. When feed prices go up, cost benefits of rBGH use decline.

Second, FCAN has serious questions about the impact of growth hormone on human health, despite FDA approval. The hormone causes cows to continue lactating for 8 to 12 weeks longer after calving (than without the hormone). This stresses the animals bodies, causing (among other problems) an increase in mastitis - infection in their udders. The icky result of mastitis is the presence of white cells in the final product, that is to say, pus in milk. Thatís enough to make you flinch, but the problem is really more serious. Farmers treat their mastitis-afflicted herds with antibiotics, which also end up in milk. That means there is a potential for allergic reaction to consumers who are allergic to some antibiotics, and increased resistance to the antibiotics farmers commonly use. By the way, there are about fifty of those, available at feed stores without prescription, and the FDA routinely tests for only three or four of them in milk. Even more serious are new questions about links between human consumption of rBGH-treated milk and an increase in the incidence of breast and colon cancer. [Dr. Samuel Epstein, University of Illinois at Chicago]

Animal rights are also important to consumers. Many products, especially cosmetics, are labeled "cruelty-free" because consumers want to be able to choose to purchase products which donít condemn innocent animals to torture and pain. FCAN believes that the desire to make these spending choices is the right of American consumers. Bovine growth hormone use harms cows. Thatís reason enough for many informed consumers to choose to avoid it, and FCAN supports consumersí right to make choices like that.

Labeling would solve some of the problems associated with rBGH use. If milk that was produced under use of the hormone had a label that said so, consumers would have more information to allow them to make choices about purchasing that milk. Monsanto is beginning to lose its battle against labels - and thatís a good thing. We at FCAN believe that an informed consumer is a powerful consumer, and that people in Florida want more information about the health and environmental impacts about the products they buy. Thatís why itís important for stories like Steve and Janeís to get out - not just the story about rBGH, but the story about the story, too. When big chemical companies spend time and money keeping information away from the public, consumers should know about it. We hope today that you will make that happen. Thank you.