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Hot Topics - Milk & Hormones

Consumers Union says, "Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, praised a decision today by the U.N.'s main food safety body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, not to endorse the safety of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), a genetically-engineered hormone produced by Monsanto that is designed to increase dairy cows' milk output." [From "U.S. and Europe Agree to Disagree on Safety of Dairy Hormone", June 30, 1999].

Consumer Reports ® says, "A greater concern than bGH in milk may be a related hormone known as insulinlike growth factor I, or IGF-I. The IGF-I found in cows is chemically identical to that found in humans. The hormone, produced as a chemical 'messenger' in response to bGH, is the substance through which bGH actually exerts many of its effects on the body's cells. Levels of IGF-I rise in the milk of cows treated with bGH. The degree of the change is unclear; some studies have shown an increase as low as 25 percent, others more than a three-fold increase. It's not clear whether IGF-I in milk can survive the human digestive tract or, if it does, what the physiological effects might be. Both issues need further study.

Use of the hormone bGH may also affect human health indirectly by affecting the health of the cows that receive it. Several studies show an increased incidence of mastitis (inflammation of the udder), reproductive failure, and other health problems in cows given bGH. Farmers are more likely to give antibiotics to cows with mastitis or other infections, and those drugs, in turn, could make their way into milk when used improperly.

In that way, widespread use of bGH could exacerbate a problem that has already caused public concern: the presence of animal drug residues in the milk supply. Over the last few years, several organizations have tested. American milk and reported finding traces of antibiotics in a significant number of samples, nearly 40 percent in one case. Drug residues in milk could theoretically lead to human health problems, including allergic reactions in sensitized individuals and, for some drugs, a hypothetical cancer risk.

At present, drug residues in milk do not appear to present a significant health risk, judging by tests of milk that CU conducted last year. We analyzed 160 samples of milk bought in New York and Wisconsin. In a preliminary screening test - the same test that had formed the basis of earlier reports from other groups - 20 percent came up positive for some antibiotic contamination. But more-precise tests are needed to confirm the presence of antibiotics, measure the amounts, and identify the individual drugs. Our confirmation tests conclusively verified residues in only about 2 percent of the samples. And the few antibiotic residues we found were all within limits considered "safe" by the FDA.

That basically reassuring result is tempered, however, by two offsetting concerns.

First, there is now no adequate Government program to ensure that antibiotic levels in milk will not rise as a result of bGH use, changes in veterinary practices, or other factors. The FDA's new National Drug Residue Milk Monitoring Program, designed to search for antibiotics in milk, is checking only 250 samples of milk a year, far too few to represent the varied national milk supply adequately. In addition, the program tests milk for only a dozen or so antibiotics, a modest fraction of those now in use. A second, more fundamental problem is that for many antibiotics - including some picked up by our screening tests - there are no reliable ways to verify residues at the levels likely to occur in the milk supply. The law requires drug makers to develop analytical methods for detecting residues before a drug can be approved for use in animals. The FDA has not enforced that requirement stringently in the past, and the agency is now struggling, with limited resources, to come up with "state of the art" tests for the most important antibiotics in milk." [From "Udder Insanity", May 1992].

"Milk: New questions for an old staple " - Consumer Reports reports (Jan 2000), "There are many reasons consumers may choose to buy organic milk. But should they fear serving regular milk to their kids? No... Organic milk may also be for you if you want to support organic farming principles. But we see no reason to buy it for fear that regular milk is unsafe to drink."

"E is for Error" - Former Consumer Reports reporter Larry Katzenstein writes in Priorities (September 30, 1996), "The [Consumer Policy Institute] spearheaded CU's campaign to prevent the FDA from approving rBGH and, when it was approved, tried to prevent the hormone from winning public acceptance. Since it didn't have science on its side in impugning rBGH's safety, the institute resorted to science fiction in linking the hormone to Mad Cow Disease."

"Cancer Charge against Milk Udderly Ridiculous" - Michael Fumento writes, "[Sam Epstein's] theory assumes that the hormone can enter and remain viable in the digestive tract. But as Dr. Michael J. MacDonald, a University of Wisconsin pediatric endocrinologist who studies the effects of hormones on children has pointed out, IGF-1 is produced not in the stomach but the liver, and if it entered the digestive system, stomach acids and enzymes would destroy it."

"Human Health Aspects of Bovine Somatotropin (BST)" - Dr. Dale E. Bauman, Chair of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Agriculture. writes (Feb 1994), "With the approval of bovine somatotropin for use in dairy cows, some of the public discussion has focussed on the safety of the animal products for human consumption. In particular, Michael Hansen of Consumer Policy Institute and Jeremy Rifkin's "Pure Food Campaign" have implied that food safety issues have not been addressed and that there is widespread concern in the scientific and medical communities. There are areas of biology in which knowledgeable experts disagree, but safety of foods from bST-treated animals is not one of them. The following represents a synoposis of findings from all medical and scientific groups that have evaluated the human health aspects of bST use. "

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Press Release on the approval of sometribove - The FDA says (Nov. 5, 1993 ), "'There is virtually no difference in milk from treated and untreated cows,' [FDA Commission David] Kessler said about bST. 'In fact, it's not possible using current scientific techniques to tell them apart. We have looked carefully at every single question raised, and we are confident this product is safe for consumers, for cows and for the environment.'"

"CAST Ppresents Scientific Information on Bovine Somatotropin(BST)" - The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) reports (May 27, 1993), "Over 1,500 scientific studies on BST have been published and these studies have encompassed the range of management and environmental conditions that characterize world-wide dairy production. Results indicate that cows supplemented with BST are healthy and produce milk with a normal composition. BST allows the animal to utilize nutrients more efficiently, which results in beneficial effects on resource use and environmental impact. Medical and health agencies throughout the world have evaluated BST and concluded that use of BST represents no human health risk and results in meat and milk that are safe for human consumption."

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