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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.

Monsanto's Position
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 rBGH-treated milk.

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 significantly increased.

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 rBGH-treated cows.

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 stopped completely.

Stopping rBGH
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 marketplace:
~ 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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