rBST Marketed as Posilac Was Considered Flagship Product of Agricultural Biotechnology
Center for Food Safety and Other Consumer and Farm Groups Declare a Victory for Consumers in “Milk Wars” Over the Use of the Artificial Growth Hormone
Washington, DC, August 6, 2008 – Today, the Center for Food Safety and other consumers and farm groups declared a victory for consumers in the ongoing ‘milk wars’ when the the Monsanto Company announced this morning that it was “pursuing a divestiture of its dairy product, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), in the upcoming months.” This decision by the biotech giant to drop its line of artificial bovine growth hormones, Monsanto’s first biotech product, comes after a nearly five-year decline in use of rBST, which was marketed under the name “Posilac”.
“What’s happened today could be a great victory for the American consumer,” says Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “Monsanto has recognized that consumers have made a choice to avoid milk made with genetically engineered growth hormones, and that the dairies and markets that serve their needs are not buying milk made with their product. They have clearly judged the time right to get out of the failing artificial growth hormone business.”
In 1994, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone, the FDA also said that the following label statement, in proper context, is acceptable: “from cows not treated with rBST.” Last year, Monsanto asked FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to declare these labels to be misleading. In August 2007, the FTC wrote to Monsanto, “The FTC staff agrees with FDA that food companies may inform consumers in advertising, as in labeling, that they do not use rBST.”
Subsequent attempts by Monsanto to ban such labeling at the state level have met with strong resistance from local consumers, advocacy groups, farmers and dairies. Earlier this summer, an overwhelming public backlash forced Pennsylvania Governor Rendell to rescind an order from his Dept. of Agriculture to remove labels from milk identifying it as produced without use of rBGH. A similar rule put forward in Ohio is now under legal challenge by groups representing farmers, dairies and consumers (the Center for Food Safety is a co-plaintiff).
“When Monsanto failed to get the federal government to remove “rBST-Free” labels, they went after states like Pennsylvania and Ohio to ban labels, but they’ve been fought every step of the way,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety. “They have clearly seen and understood that public demand is in favor of transparency and truth when it comes to what’s on our plates.”
Scientists and physicians have long raised questions about the long-term safety of consuming milk from cows treated with rBGH, concerns stemming from the milk’s increased levels of insulin-like growth factor, another powerful hormone. Regulators in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all 27 nations of the European Union have banned rbGH due to adverse effects on animal health. Cows injected with the hormone show increased risks for infertility and lameness as well as for udder infections, which are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotic use on animals is a major cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a major public health threat.
Numerous polls show that there is widespread consumer demand for milk produced by cows not treated with artificial hormones and the market is responding to that demand. A June 2007 Consumer Reports National Research Center poll of over 1,000 people nationwide found that 76 percent of consumers were concerned with dairy cows given synthetic growth hormones and 88 percent agreed that milk from cows raised without synthetic bovine growth hormone should be allowed to be labeled as such.
Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone business has been in decline since 2002, according to a recent USDA report. The number of dairy cows injected with rBGH dropped from 22.3 percent of all U.S. cows in 2002 to 17.2 percent in 2007, a nearly 23 percent drop. This trend in response to market demand continues: in 2008, many more dairies have announced that are going rBST-free.