Think Before You Drink
by Ben Davis
Conscious Choice, November/December 1995
When you drink a glass of milk, what is the first thing that comes
to mind? A nutritious drink good for the development of strong bones
and teeth? Perhaps you are reminded of the ad campaign: Milk--it does
a body good. Or, like many consumers, you might think of the
controversial recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Since 1993,
this genetically engineered hormone has been one of the most debated
topics in the nation's supermarkets and grocery stores.
rBGH is manufactured by the mega-chemical corporation, Monsanto
Co., which is based in St. Louis. At the time of approval, rBGH
(brand name Posilac) was heralded by many dairy executives as a boon
to the industry; some boasted that it would increase milk production
in cows by five to fifteen percent. But from the first, consumer and
farm advocates were concerned about how the product would affect
family farms and what it would do to the quality of milk. Independent
scientists criticized the fda for ignoring substantial scientific
evidence associating increased human consumption of Insulin-like
Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), which increases in milk from rBGH injected
cows, with an increased risk of breast and colon cancer.
Since the approval of the rBGH, new scientific studies have been
published that suggest critics of the genetically engineered hormone
may be on target.
What is IGF-1?
IGF-1 is a hormone that appears naturally in humans and cows. The
IGF-1 in cows is chemically identical to the IGF-1 in humans. IGF-1
regulates cell growth, which causes cells to divide, particularly in
children. This is important because cancer is defined as
uncontrollable cell growth. The question then arises, will an
increase of IGF-1 in genetically engineered milk cause inappropriate
cell division in humans, which in turn could accelerate tumor growth?
Published research shows that rBGH injected into dairy cows
substantially increases the concentration of IGF-1 in cow's milk. In
an article in Science magazine in 1990, FDA scientists admitted that
rBGH-tainted milk has higher levels of IGF-1. Other scientists have
confirmed this conclusion. A recent report by another manufacturer of
rBGH, Eli Lilly &Co., reveals a ten-fold increase in IGF-1
levels. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that IGF-1 in rBGH
milk affects the human body differently than non-hormonal milk.
Contrary to industry and FDA propaganda, IGF-1 is not destroyed by
pasteurization. Even according to two FDA scientists, pasteurization
substantially increases IGF-1 levels in milk. Nor is IGF-1 in milk or
dairy products destroyed by digestion. Moreover, the FDA acknowledges
that IGF-1 is readily absorbed cross the intestinal wall: this was
previously admitted by Monsanto in 1987, and further confirmation
comes from leading scientists from Britain. Additionally, recent
research indicates that IGF-1 can be absorbed into the bloodstream,
where it can affect other hormones.
FDA and other industry sources have not published any detailed
studies on the oral toxicity of IGF-1 in animal and humans. Rather,
they have consistently refused to make available their findings and
raw data. A highly condensed summary of an IGF-1 Monsanto short-term
test in mature rats was released by FDA in 1990. The agency alleges
that this study confirms IGF-1's "lack of oral activity." At the
outset it should be noted that the Monsanto test was contracted out
to Hazelton Laboratories, which has a two-decade history of
misrepresenting scientific data, according to Dr. Samuel Epstein at
the University of Illinois/Chicago.
Nevertheless, even Monsanto/Hazelton's data explicitly reveals
evidence of growth-promoting effects. Feeding relatively low doses of
IGF-1 to mature rats for only two weeks resulted in statistically
significant and systemic effects: increased body weight; increased
liver weight; increased bone length; and decreased epiphyseal width.
These results confirm prior theoretical predictions. In layperson's
terms: this drug may well be dangerous to humans, especially infants
and children. The FDA has completely failed to investigate the
effects of long-term feeding of IGF-1 and genetically engineered milk
on growth, in infant rats or infants of any other species.
rBGH, IGF-1, and Cancer
In addition to the unusual growth patterns IGF-1 seems to promote,
there is strong evidence of a cancer risk from IGF-1. Science
Magazine recently reported that IGF-1 increases the malignancy of
human breast cancer cells, including their invasiveness and ability
to spread to distant organs. A study in the New England Journal of
Medicine confirmed that growth factors such as IGF-1 are responsible
for the promotion of breast cancer cells. IGF-1 has been similarly
linked with colon cancer.
A leading British medical journal recently reported that the
breast cells of fetuses and infants are particularly susceptible to
hormonal influences. Such imprinting by IGF-1 may increase future
breast cancer risks, and may also increase the sensitivity of the
breast to subsequent unrelated risks such as mammography and the
carcinogenic and estrogen-like effects of pesticide residues in food,
particularly in pre-menopausal women.
Concerns about increased levels of IGF-1 in milk from cows treated
with rBGH are not new. In 1990, the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) Consensus panel on rBGH expressed concerns on adverse health
effects of IGF-1 in rBGH milk, calling for further study on the
treated milk's impacts, especially on infants. One of the
recommendations for further research was to determine the acute and
chronic actions of IGF-1. In a 1989 letter to the FDA, Dr. Samuel
Epstein warned that the effects of IGF-1 "could include premature
growth stimulation [breast enlargement] in infants and young children
and breast cancer in adult females."
More recently, the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American
Medical Association stated: "Further studies will be required to
determine whether the ingestion of higher than normal concentrations
of bovine insulin-like growth factor is safe for children,
adolescents and adults." Although the AMA and other leading health
authorities have called for further research on the health impact of
IGF-1, none have been performed. Instead, the FDA has allowed for
uncontrolled, unlabeled sales of treated milk to unwitting consumers.
In 1994 the European Union extended their ban on rBGH at least until
the year 2000. Canada appears poised to extend its commercial ban
also. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world where
it is legal to genetically engineer and sell milk and milk products.
Since 1994, Monsanto has steadily maintained that IGF-1 is not
elevated in genetically engineered milk. Their spokespeople have
stated that IGF-1 levels are higher in human spit than in
Monsanto argues that IGF-1 is broken down during digestion, which
is largely correct. But a recently published study on IGF-1 proves
that IGF-1 in milk does not break down during digestion. The study
from the Journal of Endocrinology shows that IGF-1, in the
presence of casein (a protein in cow's milk), is not destroyed by
human digestion. The casein protects IGF-1 so that it remains intact
in the gut of humans who consume rBGH-tainted milk. In a 1990 study,
FDA scientists also found that IGF-1 survived digestion. These
scientists fed IGF-1 to rats, and the size of the rats' bodies
Monsanto seems to be alone when they argue that rBGH injections
into cows has no effect on IGF-1 levels in their milk. In 1994,
Monsanto researchers stated, "...IGF-1 concentration in milk from
rBST (rBGH)-treated cows is unchanged..." T.B. Mepham, a British
scientist, has reminded Monsanto that when they applied for rBGH
approval in Great Britain, they admitted that IGF-1 level went up
substantially (about five times). Even a Monsanto consultant admits
that IGF-1 levels double in rBGH-treated milk.
There is some disagreement on how much IGF-1 increases in the milk
because of the current imprecision of measurement techniques. There
is also confusion about the extent to which IGF-1 exists in a
truncated form (having a part cut off the molecule), which would
increase the bioactivity of the IGF-1 molecule about ten times. But
whether the levels are seventy-five percent higher or ten times
higher, the public still has a right to know. No family should be
subjected unknowingly to milk and dairy products that have any
increased levels of a potent cancer accelerator such as IGF-1.
Excessive IGF-1 also wreaks havoc on the gastro-intestinal tract.
A recent study on acromegaliacs--people who suffer from excessive
growth of the their head, hands, face, and feet--shows that they have
a higher incidence of tumors in the colon (a portion of the
intestines). Acromegaly is caused by an excessive amount of natural
IGF-1 in the human body. In another recent study, IGF-1 was exposed
to human cells taken from the human gut. The study reported that
IGF-1 promoted cell division.
Another recent study published in Cancer Research shows
clearly that IGF-1 is required for the establishment and maintenance
of tumors. This study found that IGF-1 protects the cells from
programmed cell death. IGF-1 was shown to accelerate tumor growth and
effect the aggressiveness of tumors. As IGF-1 levels were decreased,
cell death took place.
Together, these new studies all point to the need to reexamine the
science that was used to approve rBGH. Obviously, we need to
understand more about rBGH and its effects on IGF-1 levels in milk.
More specifically, we need to know what happens when significant
higher levels of IGF-1 come into contact with the gastrointestinal
tract. The link between IGF-1 and cancer deserves special attention.
Even industry-funded researchers stated have stated that many more
potential effects of IGF-1 on the gastrointestinal tract and the
local immune system of the gut need to be explored.
Given the potential health impacts of consumption of milk and
other dairy products derived from rBGH-treated cows, all such
products on the market should be labeled, as a minimal precaution, so
consumers are aware of what they are purchasing and consuming. More
prudently, FDA approval of rBGH should be withdrawn until the agency
performs adequate long term testing on the impacts of increased
levels of IGF-1 in milk and other dairy products derived from
The Cancer Epidemic and Prevention of Risks
No one needs to visit a cancer ward in a hospital to understand the
incredible toll that cancer has taken on Americans. Cancer now
strikes one in three and kills one in four, with over 550,000 deaths
last year. There is growing evidence that many of these cancers are
avoidable. IGF-1 from rBGH-treated cows is one of those avoidable
risks. Monsanto scientists argue that it is a very small risk if any
at all. Dr. George Tritsch, a prominent cancer researcher, responded
to this argument beautifully by suggesting: "When you talk about an
infinitesimally small increase, ask how many more individual cases of
breast cancer are you willing to accept, and who are these
individuals going to be?"
The growth of any one cancer is unacceptable. To increase the risk
even for one case--to look one person in the eye and say, Gee, I'm
sorry, you must get cancer--is morally untenable.
And Now, Some Good News?
A national poll performed in early October by Dairy Today
magazine has cited unprofitability and health problems with cattle as
the primary reasons many farmers have discontinued using rBGH. This
poll and reports from veterinarians and dairy and feed consultants
indicate that of the small amount of farmers that have used rBGH
since 1994, between forty percent and ninety percent have
discontinued its use. Poll results also showed that eighty-seven
percent of the farmers who have not used rBGH would never use it. Of
course, ninety percent of all 135,000 dairy farmers in America have
refused to use the drug at all. They know that consumers hate it;
that it is cruel and damaging to cows; and that it is the gateway
product for literally scores of unlabeled, untested genetically
engineered Frankenfoods which will put an end to family farms once
and for all.
Data recently obtained from the FDA through the Freedom of
Information Act by the Wisconsin Farmer's Union supports the poll's
findings. The information from the FDA profiles many problems in cows
which were entering their first pregnancy and lactation subsequent to
being treated with rBGH. The level of abortions, deformed calves,
premature and multiple births, and low-birth-rate calves is truly
startling, says Mark Kastel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the
Farmers Union. These are emotionally and economically devastating
problems for farmers. This is the reason why only three percent of
the nation's ten million dairy cows are currently being injected with
rBGH. But it's outrageous that this three to five percent of the milk
stream is being covertly mixed into the general milk supply. We need
to keep refusing to buy milk from rBGH-injected cows until its use is
If anyone is interested in putting the nail in the coffin of the
unsafe genetically-engineered Bovine Growth Hormone, here are a few
suggested contacts to learn how to kick this product out of the
~ Nationally, two U.S. consumer advocacy groups, the Pure Food
Campaign in Minnesota (800-451-7670) and Food and Water Inc., in
Vermont (800-EAT-SAFE) are locked in major battles with Monsanto
and the major dairy conglomerates. Please call these two
organizations for more information on their campaigns.
~ In Illinois, several community organizations have targeted
rBGH. Contact the Milk Outrage Organization (312-276-3776) and the
Chicago Pure Food Campaign (708-858-3433) for more information.
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