rBGH is the abbreviation for recombinant bovine growth hormone, also referred to as "rBST" or "BST," a genetically-engineered growth hormone called "bovine somatotropin." rBGH was developed and marketed by the large agribusiness company Monsanto under the brand name "Posilac," and is reported to increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent. rBGH was the first major biotechnology food product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 1993. In August 2008, Monsanto sold POSILAC to Eli Lilly.
Neither Canada nor Europe have approved rBGH, however, due to the health problems it can cause in cows. Even the United Nations' Codex Alimentarius Commission refused, in 1999, to declare the drug safe. Nevertheless, Monsanto has been able to sue U.S. milk producers who wish to label their milk as rBGH-free.
Health Canada's decision in 1999 to ban the drug was particularly instructive; Monsanto tried to pressure the regulatory body into approving rBGH and some of the scientists involved were suspended (but later found not guilty of a "breach of loyalty") for publicly exposing the pressure campaign. (Incidentally, in 2004, the same scientists, Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert, were fired, in a move their union described as retribution for their whistle-blowing.)
In another incident, Fox TV journalists Jane Akre and Steve Wilson lost their jobs because they had tried to broadcast a critical report about Monsanto's rBGH. A jury awarded them damages because they had been pressured to broadcast "a false, distorted or slanted story" and fired for threatening to blow the whistle but an appeals court agreed with Fox that it is technically not against any law, rule or regulation to deliberately distort the news on television.
rBGH has been linked to mad cow disease, since rBGH injections make cows need higher protein diets. One of the cheapest protein sources is slaughterhouse waste, including rendered "downer" cows and other animals at higher risk for disease. As summarized in the book Mad Cow USA:
- One activist characterized rBGH as "crack for cows." It forced cows to produce more milk at the price of increased stress on their overall health, exacerbating illnesses such as mastitis, and mining the calcium from their bones. In order to achieve the higher levels of milk production, moreover, cows needed to consume more energy-dense food, adding to the pressure for farmers to use protein adn fat supplements derived from rendered animals - the feeding practice which had created the BSE epidemic in the first place.
In early 2004, Monsanto announced that it was reducing rBGH sales by half. Farmers and others asked, "What's gone wrong with Monsanto's rBGH?" The New York Times reported: "A Monsanto spokeswoman, Janice Armstrong, said the cutback came after a Food and Drug Administration inspection in November  of the factory at which the product was made. The F.D.A. found that more batches of hormone than expected were failing the factory's quality control tests, she said. Although those batches were not sold, Ms. Armstrong said, the factory ... must make changes to correct the problems, cutting into output."
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Related SourceWatch Articles
- American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology
- Codex Alimentarius
- Mad cow disease - contains list of links to mad cow disease-related entries
- Eli Lilly