rBST and Monsanto: The Corporate Teat



I was in the car last week listening to the Diane Rehm Show (it, uh, relaxes me), when an exchange between the host and one of her guests roused me out of my torpor.

The topic du jour was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recent determination that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe for human consumption and don't need to be labeled to indicate that aspect of their provenance.

Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health, was in the unenviable position of advocating for the pro-cloning forces. Rehm asked her a hypothetical question, pending the outcome of the FDA's ongoing "public comment period" on its finding:

Diane Rehm: If the public feels overwhelmingly that this food should not come into the nation's food supply, or that every bit of it ought to be labeled, how do you believe the American Council on Science and health would respond?

Ruth Kava: If the public doesn't want it and they make their feelings known to the producers, then the producers aren't going to try to foist it on them.

Diane Rehm: But how will they know what they're buying, if it's not labeled?

Ruth Kava: I think they can call and ask. I think that most producers would be willing to tell them or let them know.... We do have a system whereby people who don't want various sorts of food-production technologies used -- called the organic system -- that is now available to everyone. And so if people are really concerned about various kinds of food-production methodologies, they can use this alternate system.

An interesting stance: Those members of "the public" who are interested in trivial matters like where their food comes from already have the means to do so; all they have to do is buy organic. So you've got your carers, and then you've got

The Rest of Us Who Don't Give a Shit Where the Dang Heifer Came From.

As if we can trust what we read on food labels. As if!

Now comes this press release from local chem behemoth Monsanto, whose britches are bunched over "deceptive" claims that say or imply dastardly things about Posilac, a.k.a. rBST, a.k.a. recombinant bovine somatotropin, a.k.a. bovine growth hormone.

Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) announced today that letters from more than 500 concerned individuals and Monsanto have been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting action to stop deceptive milk labeling and advertising. The two letters outline how certain milk labels and promotions that differentiate milk based on farmer use of POSILAC bovine somatotropin (bST) are misleading to consumers and do not meet the standards set by laws and regulations for either the Federal Trade Commission or the Food and Drug Administration.
Better suited to bathroom reading than the press release are the FDA (which governs food labeling) and FTC (which governs advertising) letters themselves. In those we're brought face to face with the gory specifics, and must confront facts such as:

"False and deceptive advertising regarding milk and recombinant bovine somatotropin ('rBST') has mislead [sic] consumers for years. These practices are clear violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act and result in higher milk prices for consumers and less choice for dairy farmers."

(And, um, lower sales figures for Posilac.)

In his preamble to the 36-page "Attachment" appended to the FDA letter, Monsanto's associate general counsel for the Office of Policy, Stewardship, Regulation and Government, Brian Robert Lowry, politely points out that "[m]ilk labels that make claims regarding BST, rBST or rBGH are often false or misleading to consumers."

And do you know what? The associate general counsel for the Office of Policy, Stewardship, Regulation and Government is right!

For as we proceed to learn, some labels carry designations like "No Hormones" or "No Hormones Added." That's bogus! All milk contains naturally occurring hormones. Plus, the vast majority of milk sold in this country is augmented with vitamin D, and vitamin D is a...hormone.

Then there are labels like "rBST-free," "No Artificial Hormones" and "Does Not Contain Artificial Growth Hormones." Bogus, bogus and bogus! Any dummy who's read his Brian Robert Lowry knows that rBST isn't a hormone that's put in milk. It's a hormone that's put in cows! Ergo, no milk can be properly said to "contain" rBST.

Finally, Brian Robert Lowry tackles claims along the lines of "Produced Without the Use of Artificial Hormones" and "Farmer's Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones."

I know what you're saying. You're saying: That Brian Robert Lowry's one smart dude! But how's he gonna weasel out of this one?

How? I'll tell you how: He's gonna tell poor Ruth Kava to go pound sand, that's how!

Some claims focus on the absence of artificial hormones in the production process. For example, certain statements refer specifically to the absence of rBST in the production of milk: "our cows are not treated with rBST," and "our farmers pledge not to use artificial growth hormones."

Although such claims may be literally true -- provided that the dairy processor can establish that it has followed practices and procedures deemed by experts in the field to be sufficient to ensure that the milk is in fact produced by non-supplemented cows, and that the milk is never commingled with milk produced from rBST supplemented cows either before or during processing -- they are still misleading to consumers because they suggest that the milk is safer, healthier or of a higher quality than other milk.

Tom Finkel


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