Labeling Issues, Revolving Doors, rBGH, Bribery and Monsanto
Monsanto, For Labeling Before They Were Against It
An issue of growing concern is the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods . Many have questioned why it is that while consumers in all of Europe and fifty other countries around the world including including Japan, India and even China have the right to know through strict labeling which foods contain GM ingredients and thus to make an informed choice  yet consumers in the United States, purportedly the bastion of freedom, democracy and the "free market" in the world are denied this same right. Polls indicate that the great majority of Americans who are aware of the issue want labels .
Interestingly, Former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, in a 1998 interview with the State of the World Forum, asserted unequivocally (in answer to a question about the labeling of GM foods) that:
- "One can make a reasonable argument that consumers and citizens have a right to know anything they wish to know. It is they who are choosing these products and it is they who are choosing and judging their governments. So it is almost impossible to make a case that information should be withheld from consumers.... consumers', in my view [have an] unquestioned, right to know anything they wish to know about the products they consume.... it is not my role, or Monsanto's role, to decide these things. It is society's role to decide those questions after appropriate debate" To the question "So you are open to labeling being introduced then?" Shapiro answered: "Yes. Of course"  (bold ours).
In the UK Monsanto once stated in a series of advertisements:
- "Recently you may have noticed a label appearing on some of the food in your supermarket. This is to inform you about the use of biotechnology in food. Monsanto fully supports UK food manufacturers and retailers in their introduction of these labels. We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase".
In a 1998 advertising campaign run by Monsanto in France after the EU instituted mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food Monsanto said:
- "You have the right to know what you eat, especially when it's better…After several months of debate, Europe has just adopted a new law for the labeling of food that comes from genetically engineered plants…We believe that products that come from biotechnology are better and that they should to be labeled"  (this begs the question, since Monsanto is now opposed to labeling foods that contain GM products are they implicitly acknowledging that they are not "better"?).
And here's Gary Barton, Monsanto spokesman:
- "There's a total misperception that we're against labeling" 
Apparently, however, this seeming largesse no longer extends to the right of grocery customers to know if the milk they consume or the food they buy contains GMOs. Says Monsanto's For the Record, "Some people believe it’s a right-to-know issue, and all products containing ingredients from GM crops should be labeled as such.... Mandatory labeling of food containing GM ingredients might seem like a no-brainer. However, once you consider the facts, it becomes clear there is no sense in mandatory GM labeling" . The "facts" they cite are that, "To date, no approved biotech crop is either an allergen, or has any significant nutritional differences from non-GM counterparts". Some would beg to differ .
Attempts to accomplish some kind of labeling have, since those fairer early days, repeatedly been rebuffed due to tremendous opposition from biotech. For example, Monsanto began "formally asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to punish dairies that label their milk "rBGH-free'" . See update below. This is despite the fact that Monsanto schizophrenically stated in their letter to the FTC ironically stated that:
- "milk producers and retailers certainly have the right to inform customers about the use or non-use of rBST"  which the FTC restated in their reply to Monsanto . And they stated in response to the Oakhurst issue (see below):
- "Monsanto fully supports the right of people in grocery stores to make informed choices about what they purchase" .
What does the biotech industry fear? Apparently it's the loss of sales if people know . According to a USDA study, "consumers’ willingness to pay for food products decreases when the food label indicates that a food product is produced using biotechnology" . Or, as Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto says, "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it." - Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994
Thus in 2002 Oregon tried and failed to pass a labeling initiative (Measure 27). The campaign cited big money and misinformation propagated by biotech as contributing to the defeat .
In 2003 Monsanto demanded that Maine dairy Oakhurst "stop advertising that it doesn't use milk from hormone-treated cows" . For three years a label on the dairy's milk containers stated "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones", however Monsanto sued and eventually the dairy gave in and agreed to an additional label stating that "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from (hormone)-treated and non-(hormone)-treated cows."
On November 6, 2012 California voters will finally be given the opportunity to decide if they want GMO labeling with the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act which would require labeling. To date supporters have raised $! million and were granted a matching $1 million to get the message out . Monsanto and friends however have a much larger war chest to draw from.
"It’s estimated that the opposition will spend $60 million - $100 million to convince voters that GMOs are perfectly safe. They’ll try to scare voters into believing that labeling will make food more expensive, that it will spark hundreds of lawsuits against small farmers and small businesses, and that it will contribute to world hunger. None of this is true. On the contrary, studies suggest just the opposite."
The article lists some notorious names that will be employed in an attempt to defeat the initiative which include professional spinmeisters for the Biotech, Tobacco, Oil, Insurance and "Tort Reform" industries. Meet the Corporate Front Groups Fighting to Make Sure You Can't Know What's in Your Food.
Here, on the other hand, is a list of endorsers of Prop 37.
But What was going on behind the scenes? "The FDA's pro-rBGH activities make more sense in light of conflicts of interest between the FDA and the Monsanto corporation. Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for policy, wrote the FDA's rBGH labelling guidelines. The guidelines, announced in February 1994, virtually prohibited dairy corporations from making any real distinction between products produced with and without rBGH. To keep rBGH-milk from being "stigmatized" in the marketplace, the FDA announced that labels on non-rBGH products must state that there is no difference between rBGH and the naturally occurring hormone. In March 1994, Taylor was publicly exposed as a former lawyer for the Monsanto corporation for seven years. While working for Monsanto, Taylor had prepared a memo for the company as to whether or not it would be constitutional for states to erect labelling laws concerning rBGH dairy products. In other words. Taylor helped Monsanto figure out whether or not the corporation could sue states or companies that wanted to tell the public that their products were free of Monsanto's drug" . Rachel's Hazardous Waste News adds a few details, "It is no accident that the FDA and Monsanto are speaking with one voice on this issue. The FDA official responsible for the agency's labeling policy, Michael R. Taylor, is a former partner of King & Spaulding, the Washington, D.C. law firm that has brought the lawsuits on behalf of Monsanto.... In 1984 he joined King & Spaulding and remained there until 1991; during that time the law firm represented Monsanto while the company was seeking FDA approval of rBGH.... Taylor signed the FEDERAL REGISTER notice warning grocery stores not to label milk as free of rBGH, thus giving Monsanto a powerful boost in its fight to prevent consumers from knowing whether rBGH produced their milk" .
"Taylor did not simply fill a vacant position at the agency", says Jeffrey M. Smith in his book Seeds of Deception, "In 1991 the FDA created a new position for him: Deputy Commissioner for Policy. He instantly became the FDA official with the greatest influence on GM food regulation, overseeing the development of government policy. According to public interest attorney Steven Druker, who has studied the FDA's internal files, 'During Mr. Taylor's tenure as Deputy Commissioner, references to the unintended negative effects of bioengineering were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists (1)), and a final statement was issued claiming (a) that [GM] foods are no riskier than others and (b) that the agency has no information to the contrary"  . After his stint at the FDA Taylor went back to work as Monsanto's vice-president for public policy .
In disappointing news however, Taylor was again appointed to the FDA, this time for the Obama administration in July of 2009 as an "Advisor to FDA Commissioner" as a "food safety expert" . His new duties include, "Assess current food program challenges and opportunities", "Identify capacity needs and regulatory priorities" and "Plan implementation of new food safety legislation".
Another example of the Government-industry revolving door is Margaret Miller, "In order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto's growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto's researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA [as deputy director of the Office of New Animal Drugs]. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. In short, Monsanto approved its own report. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen" . Here  you can read Robert Cohen's testimony before FDA on the subject of rBGH including the disclosure that, while at the FDA and in response to increasing sickness in cows on the stuff, Miller increased the amount of antibiotics that farmers can legally give cows by 100 times. See also . "Remarkably the GAO determined in a 1994 investigation that these officials' former association with the Monsanto corporation did not pose a conflict of interest. But for those concerned about the health and environmental hazards of genetic engineering, the revolving door between the biotechnology industry and federal regulating agencies is a serious cause for concern" .
Miller's name again came up when it was revealed in 1999 that a direct underling at the FDA, Nick Weber, during European Commission deliberations on the safety of the rBGH, secretly passed on their confidential documents concerning it to Monsanto. "Advance knowledge of objections to the hormone seems likely to have helped Monsanto to prepare arguments in advance of the EU meeting" . Consumers' International accused Weber of "professional misconduct and 'breach of trust' in passing copies of sensitive papers to Monsanto". The UK Food Ethics Council called Monsanto's behavior "totally wrong" and a "spokesman for the Consumer Policy Institute of New York decried 'the disturbingly close relationship between FDA and Monsanto'" .
Monsanto says in answer, "One objection opponents of biotechnology have raised is the fact that some former government employees have gone to work for Monsanto, and some company employees have left the company to take jobs in the public sector. Some critics say this shows collusion by Monsanto and the government. Such theories ignore the simple truth that people regularly change jobs to find positions that match their experience, skills and interests. Both the public and private sectors benefit when employers have access to the most competent and experienced people. It makes perfect sense that someone in government who has concluded biotechnology is a positive, beneficial technology might go to work for a biotech company, just as someone who believes otherwise might find employment in an organization which rejects agricultural biotechnology" . This facetious semantic dance, unfortunately, does not account for Monsanto employees which temporarily leave the company so as to become the very federal employees that then regulate (and approve) Monsanto's products.
As for the product itself, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (a.k.a. rBST) - an engineered hormone, is sold under the name POSILAC®. Approved in 1993 it was Monsanto's first G.M. product. Injected every two weeks it increases a cow's milk output 15 percent or about a gallon plus (10 lbs) a day. Concern has been raised about the strain of this extra production on the cows themselves (photos)  .
The list of serious ailments to cows is long and sad  . On each package of Posilac Monsanto itself warns of "increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus", "decreases in gestation length and birthweight of calves", "increased risk of clinical mastitis (visibly abnormal milk) [note: mastitis is very painful]. The number of cows effected with clinical mastitis and the number of cases per cow may increase. In addition, the risk of sub-clinical mastitis (milk not visibly abnormal) is increased", "increases in somatic cell counts", "increased frequency of use of medication in cows for mastitis and other health problems", "periods of increased body temperature unrelated to illness", "increase in digestive disorders such as indigestion and diarrhea", "increased numbers of enlarged hocks and lesions (i.e. lacerations)" It should be noted that Monsanto uses the word "may" before several of these disorders. Disputed by Monsanto is the charge of draining of the animal's bones of calcium to the point of lameness, though Health Canada, in their analysis "concluded that the risk of clinical lameness was increased approximately 50% in cows treated with rbST" . Canada has banned the product because it "presents a sufficient and unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows". "This is a drug that revs up cow metabolism so high that they're typically burned out after two lactation cycles and slaughtered. Non-rBGH cows typically live four, seven, ten or more years" says Rick North, director of Campaign for Safe Food from Physicians for Social Responsibility's Oregon chapter . "It’s like putting a Volkswagen car in with the Indianapolis 500 racers," says Jeff Kleinpeter, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whose dairy was targeted by Monsanto, "You gotta keep the pedal to the metal the whole way through, and pretty soon that poor little Volkswagen engine’s going to burn up" .
Posilac has also been banned by all 15 (now 27) nations of the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Furthermore, Codex Alimentarius, the U.N. Body that sets food safety standards, has twice refused to approve the safety of rBGH .
"In return for accepting increased pus, more antibiotics, and a tumor-promoting chemical in their glass of milk, what benefits will consumer's get? None whatsoever. Zero. Even FDA says there are no consumer benefits. In fact, because the U.S. already produces a surplus of milk, which is purchased by Uncle Sam, increasing milk production with rBGH will COST the taxpayer an additional $200 million or more each year, estimates Consumers Union. That's family money pumped into some chemical company's pocket. That's who benefits" . See also Got Pus?.
The tumor promoting chemical is Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) which has been linked to breast, prostate and colon cancers . See also . Studies have indicated that milk from cows treated with rBGH have up to a 20-fold higher level of IGF-1 . "'If you have even just subtle amounts of IGF-1, there's a link to breast, prostate and colon cancer,' said Dr. Jenny Pompilio, an internist with Kaiser Permanente in Oregon. 'It's been known for years that that particular hormone is linked with cancers [because of its] effects on the endocrine system. The endocrine system is so sensitive that subtle effects can [make a difference]'" .
How many cows in the United States are treated with Posilac? Monsanto says about one-third . However says Gary Barton, Monsanto's director of biotechnology, communications, "because milk from many dairies is mixed together, essentially all [non-organic or not specifically labeled rBGH or rBST free] milk is treated" . A 2007 USDA Dairy Survey estimated rBGH use at 15.2% of operations and 17.2% of cows. The Survey noted that rBGH use increases as herd size increases - 9.1% of small operations use the hormone, whereas 42.7% of large operations use it.
Monsanto has routinely funded scientists who publish positive studies about rBGH. Dale E. Bauman and Terry Etherton are two such scientists who have received Monsanto funding and published studies with data supporting the use of rBGH.
Intrigue surrounds Canada's decision as the scientists involved alleged that Monsanto attempted to bribe and pressure them into approving Posilac. Says the Ottawa Citizen 10/23/98 "Veterinary scientists from Health Canada's Human Safety Division testified yesterday that they are being pressured to approve a controversial hormone intended to boost milk production in dairy cattle. 'We have been pressured and coerced to pass drugs of questionable safety, including rBST', Dr. Shiv Chopra told the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. The senators sat dumbfounded as Dr. Margaret Haydon told of being in a meeting when officials from Monsanto Inc., the drug's manufacturer, made an offer of between $1 million and $2 million to the scientists from Health Canada -- an offer that she told the senators could only have been interpreted as a bribe", additionally, "Dr. Haydon also recounted how notes and files critical of scientific data provided by Monsanto were stolen from a locked filing cabinet in her office."  .
In another incident Monsanto was fined $1.5 million in Indonesia for bribing a high level official there in order to "avoid environmental impact studies being conducted on its cotton" . To disguise the $50,000 bribe the former senior manager advised that it be called "consulting fees". Also "From 1997 to 2002, Monsanto's Indonesian affiliates made at least $700,000 of illicit payments to at least 140 current and former Indonesian government officials and their family members. The largest single set of payments was for the purchase of land and the design and construction of a house in the name of the wife of a senior Ministry of Agriculture official" . Though Monsanto claims to have fired the St Louis Missouri (Monsanto's U.S. Headquarters) official involved, they have so far refused to release his/her name (update: the main individual involved was apparently Charles Martin, Monsanto's former government affairs director in Asia who has been personally fined $30,000 ).
Monsanto Company was able to avoid a public trial thereby keeping details quiet and escaping likely stiffer penalties through a new type of arrangement called "deferred prosecution agreements", or D.P.A.s, a "favorite tool of the Bush administration". However, "Legal experts say the tactic may have sent the wrong signal to corporations — the promise, in effect, of a get-out-of-jail-free card." Attorney General John Ashcroft though "defended the agreements, saying that they avoided 'destroying entire corporations' through criminal indictments. 'Prosecutors understand that a corporate indictment can be a corporate death sentence,' he said. 'A deferred prosecution can avoid the catastrophic collateral consequences and costs that are associated with corporate conviction'" .
These two cases beg the question, are there other countries or instances in which Monsanto has used bribery to bypass environmental reviews or gain official acceptance? See also 
Some Good News
In an August 1, 2007 press release the grocery giant Kroger, announced that it will "complete the transition of [the store's private label] milk it processes and sells in its stores to a certified rBST-free supply by February 2008.... 'Our customers’ increasing interest in their health and wellness is the basis for our decision,' said William Boehm, senior vice president and president of manufacturing for Kroger. 'We appreciate the willingness of dairy cooperatives across the country to work with us to make this transition in the next six months'.... Kroger’s private label milk is the brand of choice for the majority of its customers" . Kroger operates 2,458 supermarkets and other stores in 31 states. These include Kroger and Kroger Marketplace, Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less, King Soopers, Smith’s and Smith’s Marketplace, Fry’s and Fry’s Marketplace, Dillons, QFC and City Market. It also operates 15 dairies and three ice cream plants.
Meanwhile feeling the pressure from Kroger, "California Dairies Inc., the largest milk handler in California, representing 45% of all the milk in the state" or "about 660 dairies scattered from one end of California to the other" has gone rBST free effective August 1st, 2007. "We think we’ve made the best decision on behalf of our membership" they said . Farmers in the co-op are still allowed to use the artificial hormone but if they do they will be charged an extra fee. It's hoped that this will induce them to change.
"Got Milk? Safeway does but it doesn’t have a controversial artificial growth hormone anymore. The grocer chain said milk suppliers for the grocer’s Northwest processing plants have stopped using recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. .... Safeway’s decision affects milk supplied to processing plants in Clackamas, Ore., and Bellevue, Wash. Those plants process and package milk circulated in more than 100 Oregon stores and about 170 in Washington, as well as stores in Idaho and Alaska" . Individual dairy brands that have gone rBST free include Challenge Butter Darigold milk and Tillamook cheese
Publix, the largest employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States, with 918 supermarkets in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee announced that "beginning May 1, 2007 its private label brand milk, including whole, reduced fat, low fat, fat free, chocolate and low-fat chocolate, in all sizes, will be rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) free.... 'As a retailer devoted to customer satisfaction and highest quality of products, we wanted our customers to enjoy the wholesome goodness of milk, without added hormones'" . Additionally, Publix also wants labeling on other food products that contain GMOs .
Another giant, Starbucks Coffee, has made a similar announcement, "we have committed that by December 31, 2007, all of our fluid milk, half and half, whipping cream and eggnog used in U.S. company-operated stores will be produced without the use of rBGH" .
Update on Monsanto's FTC request (see Labeling Issues above): "Federal regulators have turned down a request from Monsanto Co. to take action against dairy companies that advertise milk as free of synthetic hormones. The Federal Trade Commission said last week that the ads it reviewed did not make any misleading claims about the safety of recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, a hormone that boosts milk production in cows" .
In another bit of labeling good news for GM opponents Vermont's Governor James Douglas on April 26, 2004 signed into law H. 352, the Farmer Right to Know Seed Labeling Bill requiring biotech to label and register their GM seeds in the state .
The Battle Continues
In the fall of 2007 Monsanto, Osborne & Barr Communications, an agricultural marketing and public relations agency founded by Monsanto, and several dairy organizations met by phone to plan the formation of a "grass-roots", astroturf front group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology or AFACT. It's mission is to fight the rising tide of opposition to Posilac and push states to ban Posilac-free labels on milk. "Consumer demand for more natural products has conflicted with some dairy farmers' desire to use the artificial hormone to bolster production and bottom lines, and it has certainly interfered with Monsanto's business plan for Posilac ... [AFACT] also believes it will be hard for food retailers to 'move away from the rBST-free stance without legislation and government policy,' according to an AFACT presentation to dairy farmers in January. In the presentation, AFACT also listed 'integrity,' 'honesty' and 'transparent' as 'words we wish to embody.' They could start by being more straightforward about who is behind AFACT" .
The Pennsylvania Dept of Agriculture, or more specifically Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, a former dairyman who himself used the artificial hormone, recently decided to ban labels which inform consumers of milk which is rBGH free. The reason is an assumption that since the technology does not currently exist to distinguish between the artificial and natural growth hormone in milk there is no difference between them. Failing to see the IGF-1 difference the PDoA is declaring the labels false advertising . Ironically they said the move was "to better help consumers make informed purchasing and eating decisions" .
Update: Afer a public outcry Pennsylvania's Governor, Edward G. Rendell, intervened stating "the public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced". The decision was reversed January 17, 2008 . Currently, however, other states are considering label bans.
Monsanto is, in a move seen as blatantly undemocratic, yet which also demonstrates their political muscle, pushing and winning legislation in many states throughout the U.S. - sometimes straight from the Governor's office - specifically designed to prohibit local citizens from making any decisions that would limit the scope of its biotech crops and/or to repeal those locally created ordinances already in place. For updates see .
After fourteen years and plummeting sales, Monsanto on August 20, 2008, sold POSILAC® and its sole production plant in Augusta, Georgia to Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly's Elanco division for $300 million. However, "Lilly also will pay Monsanto a portion of future Posilac sales, plus assume royalty payments Monsanto makes to the University of California related to the product." . "Monsanto officials said the decision was not related to the retail trend and that business for the artificial hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac, remained brisk. Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis and is the only commercial manufacturer of the hormone, declined to provide sales numbers. Selling Posilac 'will allow Monsanto to focus on the growth of its core seeds and traits business while ensuring that loyal dairy farmers continue to receive the value of Posilac in their operations,' Carl Casale, Monsanto's executive vice president for strategy and operations, said in a statement." .
(1)  A lawsuit accompanied by "an unprecedented coalition of public interest groups, religious leaders, and eminent scientists" was filed in 1998 in an attempt to force the FDA to require food with GMOs be tested for safety and require labeling but it was dismissed "on narrow, technical grounds" in 2000 according to Attorney Steven Drucker. "This means that GE foods will continue to be unknowingly consumed by most Americans on a daily basis even though they are on the market in stark violation of the food safety laws" .
"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.'s job" - Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Playing God in the Garden" New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998.
"Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety" — FDA, "Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties" (GMO Policy), Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104 (1992), p. 229
"It is not foreseen that EFSA carry out such [safety] studies as the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate the safety of the GM product in question". . Comments from the European Food Safety Authority
"In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do" - Dr. Henry Miller, in charge of biotechnology issues for the Food and Drug Administration from 1979 to 1994 
"It was an outcome that would be repeated, again and again, through three administrations. What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto -- and, by extension, the biotechnology industry -- got. If the company's strategy demanded regulations, rules favored by the industry were adopted. And when the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an unusually generous policy of self-policing. Even longtime Washington hands said that the control this nascent industry exerted over its own regulatory destiny -- through the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and ultimately the Food and Drug Administration -- was astonishing". - from the New York Times article Redesigning Nature
"For years, these guys said PCBs were safe, too. But there's obviously a corporate culture of deceiving the public." Mike Casey of the Environmental Working Group
"There's a total misperception that we're against labeling" - Gary Barton, Monsanto spokesman 
Other Sourcewatch Resources
- Samuel Epstein, What's In Your Milk?: An Exposé of Industry and Government Cover-Up on the Dangers of the Genetically Engineered (rBGH) Milk You're Drinking Trafford Publishing, August 2006. ISBN-10 1412089204 ISBN-13 978-1412089203
- Petition Seeking the Withdrawal of the New Animal Drug Application Approval for Posilac - Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
- Jennifer Ferrara, "Revolving Doors: Monsanto and the Regulators", The Ecologist, Sept/Oct 1998.