Bovine Growth Hormone:
Milk does nobody good...

by Mike Ewall

The recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered hormone manufactured by Monsanto, has sparked a controversy nationwide since its introduction to the marketplace a couple of years ago. Sometimes referred to as Bovine Somatotropin (rBST), the bioengineered hormone is injected in the cows every other week to force the cows to produce more milk than their bodies normally would. rBGH is similar, although not identical, to a hormone that the cow naturally produces. Increasing levels of this hormone boosts milk production, causing a number of problems with the milk, among them, raising levels of pus, antibiotics residues and a cancer-accelerating hormone called IGF-1.


Whenever cows are forced to produce more milk, they become more susceptible to udder infections called mastitis. Mastitis is a condition which can increase the amount of cow’s pus which ends up in the milk. Monsanto's own data shows that there is a 79% increase in mastitis (udder infections) and a resulting 19% increase in somatic cell counts (pus & bacteria in the milk). In fact, the warning label on Monsanto’s Posilac drug (their brand name for rBGH) explicitly states: "Cows injected with POSILAC are at an increased risk for clinical mastitis (visibly abnormal milk). The number of cows affected with clinical mastitis and the number of cases per cow may increase.... In some herds, use of POSILAC has been associated with increases in somatic cell counts [pus & bacteria]." The warning label goes on to say "use of POSILAC may result in an increase in digestive disorders such as indigestion, bloat, and diarrhea.... Studies indicated that cows injected with POSILAC had increased numbers of enlarged hocks and lesions (e.g., lacerations, enlargements, calluses) of the knee...and...of the foot region."


Mastitis is treated with antibiotics, increasing the antibiotics residues which are present in milk fed to consumers. Proponents of rBGH insist that milk is one of the most heavily regulated foods with regards to antibiotics. They claim that antibiotic residues in the milk couldn’t possibly reach the consumer because each tanker of milk is tested and would have to be thrown out if antibiotic residues were found. They explain that every time a milk truck makes a pickup, the farmer’s milk is tested. A farmer guilty of providing contaminated milk would be charged for an entire tanker, therefore it would not be economical for a farmer to sell such milk.

In fact, only 4 out of 82 commercially used antibiotics are commonly tested for. In addition to the fact that so few of these are tested for, other antibiotics that are not legal for use end up in our milk. The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 1989) did a study of the antibiotic residues in milk on the market and found that 20% of the milk had illegal antibiotics present. This number was confirmed in a May 1992 Consumers Reports study while the Center for Science in the Public Interest found 38% of the milk to be adulterated with illegal antibiotics.

The economic incentives, rather than preventing antibiotics from reaching the consumer, seem to encourage farmers to use antibiotics which they know won’t be tested for.


The presence of rBGH in the cow's blood stimulates production of another hormone, called Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1, or IGF-1. It is IGF-1 that is directly responsible for increasing milk production. rBGH use raises IGF-1 levels significantly (about five times as much, according to Monsanto studies).

IGF-1 is a naturally-occurring hormone found in the milk of both cows and humans. It affects cell growth and is responsible for the quick growth of infants in both species. This is why it is biologically present in mother's milk, since it is meant to be consumed by infants. While the IGF-1 hormone already exists in humans, it is usually bound to protein and thus has less of an effect than unbound IGF-1 in milk.

When cow's milk is consumed by human non-infants, it behaves as a cancer-accelerator. IGF-1 is not destroyed in the pasteurization process nor during human digestion and is therefore biologically active in humans, being associated with breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

IGF-1 promotes cell division. As cells divide, at some point they are instructed (by their genes, in combination with hormone signals) to stop dividing or they are instructed to die so that the creation of new cells is matched by the death of cells and no net growth occurs; this is called "programmed cell death." If "programmed cell death" is prevented, then cells don't die at the right time, causing out-of-control growth of cells, which is another way of saying cancer. Cancer is uncontrolled cell division.

Corporate Criminals

Monsanto, Eli Lilly, Upjohn, and American Cyanamid are the four corporations that stood to profit from the $500 Million to be made from worldwide marketing of rBGH. While they all competed to develop rBGH, only Monsanto has continued to develop and market it. The first 3 of these four companies are convicted corporate felons. All 4 of them have a history of chemical plants that explode, toxic waste spills, deadly toxic gas cloud releases, consumer pharmaceutical products that kill people and produce birth defects, conspiracy to fix prices, antitrust violations, predatory and monopolistic practices, and/or failure to inform Federal officials of testing results indicating fatalities connected to their products.

Monsanto, one of the top 10 polluters in the U.S., is the same corporation which brought us Agent Orange and PCBs (a chemical so toxic that congress banned it in 1976). They have exposed many workers to toxic chemicals such as benzenes, PCBs and dioxins, often covering up such practices. They’ve been found guilty of conspiracy and anti-trust in marketing of herbicides and have violated federal law (despite government warnings) by promoting rBGH before its FDA approval. They've blatantly attempted to bribe Canadian officials (who admitted it) in order to hasten their approval of rBGH. They also have an apparent conflict of interest with their regulators (FDA) in that they share the same lawyer (Michael R. Taylor of Washington, D.C. law-firm, King & Spaulding). Monsanto and FDA have ganged up on any markets which try to label their milk and dairy products "rBGH-free" by threatening to sue (and actually suing some). The FDA and Monsanto have both lied about the existence of a test for rBGH in milk (stating that there is none). Monsanto has tried to block publication of research from British scientists on rBGH showing the hormone’s link to increased somatic cell (pus and bacteria) counts in milk as a result of mastitis.

Upjohn has been found guilty of willful and wanton conduct and conscious disregard of public safety in manufacturing a drug so toxic that one patient was blinded when the drug was injected in his eye. They’ve also been found "grossly negligent in marketing a defective product -- Halcion," a drug which made users "paranoid, aggressive, suicidal and totally irrational", and has been related to a number of murders.

Eli Lilly marketed DES, a drug designed to prevent miscarriages (later found ineffective), which exposed 5-10 million people, causing vaginal cancer and birth defects. In 1982, federal investigators had linked one of Eli Lilly’s anti-arthritis drug to the deaths of at least 26 Americans. The drug was pulled from the market, and Lilly eventually pleaded guilty to criminal charges for failing to inform federal officials that the drug had been tied to deaths and illness in other countries.

Universities for Sale

There is evidence of industry manipulation of academics in order to win approval for BGH. For example, University of Minnesota scientists have received hundreds of thousands of dollars to evaluate BGH from Monsanto and American Cyanamid, two of the companies which stood to profit from FDA approval of the hormone.

Pennsylvania State University Diary Science Professor Larry Muller took part in BGH research partially funded by Upjohn, and a division of Eli Lilly participated in the research itself. Milk from the university's research dairy herd is fed to a cooperative which serves the university students and the local community.

Between 1986 and 1990, Monsanto paid nearly half a million dollars to conduct four review studies at University of Vermont. Researchers covered up the fact that five deformed calves had been born at UVM in less than a year, compared to none in the previous five years. The deformities were of two types rarely seen on dairy farms.

The University of Florida also did much of the research on BGH and has received millions in gifts and grants from Monsanto.

Monsanto vs. Small Farmers & Consumers

Monsanto admitted to receiving 95 reports in the first 6 months of sales from farmers with problems. 36 cows treated with the drug died and 14 farmers have reported problems with mastitis. Monsanto did not report the case of a farmer in Florida who lost 9 cows and stated that another 15% of his herd needed to be culled (killed). His milk was rejected due to high pus content as a result of mastitis. This follows the same pattern as the farmer in New York who lost a quarter of his dairy herd to rBGH and the multiple reports from farmers who lost small numbers of cows shortly after introduction of rBGH, due to things like internal hemorrhaging.

rBGH benefits no one but Monsanto. FDA even admits that there will be no benefit to consumers. Consumers Union predicts that rBGH will cost the taxpayer an additional $200 million in surplus milk that the government (your taxes) will buy up to keep the milk prices stable. This is in a nation where we've spent an average of $2.1 billion each year from 1980 to 1985 buying surplus milk.

During 1986-87, the government paid farmers to kill their cows and stop dairy farming for 5 years. Some 14,000 farmers participated in this voluntary program, slaughtering a total of 1.55 million milk cows. Although we still have a glut of milk and agribusiness does everything they can to stress out the dairy herds, forcing them to produce more milk per cow, Monsanto sees a need to profit from a needless experiment on the public (it wasn't subject the proper legally-required testing before release for use on the general public's milk supply).

Small farmers should support labeling of rBGH-treated milk so that consumers can make a conscious choice to choose hormone-free milk rather than be forced to avoid all milk and dairy products. In 1990, 38% of Pennsylvanian consumers polled by "Dairy Today" magazine said they would drink less or no milk should BGH be introduced. Of those polled, 81% supported labeling. The anti-rBGH campaign has been backed by small to mid-size family farms since 10 to 30,000 small dairy farms could go out of business with the introduction of rBGH, accelerating a trend that’s been going on for decades.

If you’re against rBGH-treated milk desensitizing you to antibiotics, increasing your cancer risk, putting family farms out of business, and making profits for corporate criminals, and would like to get more information, visit, read up, contact some of the national organizations and enroll yourself in the fight for food safety!

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