State of Science :: Commentaries
Errors in MSNBC Story on Organic Milk
Author(s): Dr. Martin Donohoe, MD and Science Advisor
Mr. Rick North
Campaign for Safe Food
Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
August 31, 2006
Health Editor, MSNBC:
Re: The Aug. 25, 2006 article by Karen Collins, "Organic Milk: Are the benefits worth the cost?" (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14458802/)
We are writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the state affiliate of Physicians for Social Responsibility. We would like to raise a number of scientific objections to the above article.
Beginning in 2003, Oregon PSR has intensively researched the scientific data on recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), a genetically engineered drug that induces cows to produce 5-15% more milk. We have found significant evidence that people should be very concerned about the use of this drug in cows, which may increase cancer rates and antibiotic resistance in humans. For the past three years, we have been leading a public education effort to discontinue the use of rBGH.
I. Human Health Issues:
It is well known that rBGH increases levels of another growth hormone, IGF-1, which is identical in cows and humans. At elevated levels, IGF-1 is known to increase cancer rates in humans. Dale Bauman's point that the body produces more IGF-1 than is taken in by dietary factors is accurate, as far as it goes. But he completely ignores the fact that even small additional amounts of hormones can have significant effects on human health. Moreover, there is much that it is still unknown about IGF-1, especially long-term effects of drinking large quantities of milk at a young age. Finally, Collins' statement that milk consumption is not related to blood levels of IGF-1 is simply incorrect. Several peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated this, including Xian et al (1995), Kimura et al (1997), Ma et al (2001), Heaney et al (2002), and Holmes et al (2002). The milk protein casein protects most IGF-1 from digestion. Full citations are listed in the attached brochure.
The remarks by Collins regarding antibiotics are equally off the point. rBGH significantly increases mastitis rates in cows. It's accurate that conventional cows are treated with antibiotics and their milk can't be used until the levels of antibiotics are at a low level. However, when antibiotics are used, certain bacteria that are resistant to them are selected out. Most are destroyed in pasteurization, but some get through and can increase antibiotic resistance in humans. Antibiotic resistance is also facilitated when dairy cows are slaughtered and converted into hamburger meat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant food-borne infections, a multi-billion dollar problem in the U.S., are caused primarily by overuse of agricultural antibiotics.
II. Animal Health:
Regarding animal health, Monsanto's own package insert acknowledges that cows injected with rBGH may suffer from gastrointestinal disturbances, ovarian and uterine disorders, and painful mastitis, among other conditions.
III. Agriculture and Labor:
Regarding agriculture, recombinant bovine growth hormone is predominantly used by large dairy farms. These farms, which are supplanting small family dairy farms in the U.S., have worse environmental impact records, higher rates of workplace injuries, and contribute to diminishing agricultural economic diversity.
The World's Response to rBGH:
This story gives no indication that most of the industrialized nations of the world, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 25 nations of the European Union, have disallowed the use of rBGH, based primarily on human and animal health concerns. The Codex Alimentarius, the U.N's main food safety body, has concluded there is NO consensus that rBGH is safe for human consumption. Finally, Health Care Without Harm, the premier international organization supporting healthy hospital practices, opposes the use of rBGH and encourages health care providers to purchase non-rBGH dairy products.
Bias in Story:
What is perhaps most disturbing about this report is this: The main scientist cited, Dale Bauman, was a developer of rBGH and was funded by Monsanto, the hormone's only manufacturer. This is an obvious bias that was never disclosed in Collins' report. This is most disappointing.
Conclusions and Request for Follow-up:
In conclusion, based on a review of the scientific evidence, we feel that the story gave the incorrect impression that rBGH is safe. We would appreciate a response to this e-mail and a follow-up report on MSNBC giving the other side of the story.