Milk is Milk?

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Biology 103

2005 Second Paper

On Serendip

Milk is Milk?

Keti Shea

Since the Food and Drug Administration approved recombinant bovine growth
hormone(BGH or rBST)for commercial use in 1993, about 1/3 of all U.S. dairy farmers have begun use of rBGH in order to increase milk production (2). This translates to as much as 15% more milk produced than in non-rBGH cows, or 5-15 more pounds of milk per cow per day (5). While bovine somototropin (BST) occurs naturally in all cows as a protein which stimulates the production of milk, synthetic BST is produced through recombinant DNA technology (7). In this process, cow genes with somototropin-producing cells are isolated and inserted into a bacterial cell (7). When this bacteria cell then multiplies, it produces rBGH (7). While commercial dairies and proponents of agribusiness support rBGH as a safe and effective way to increase milk production, other voices such as consumers' groups and environmentalists have reacted against the use of recombinant bovine growth hormones as posing serious health risks to both animals
and humans.

One such concern is the claimed link between the consumption of rBGH milk and breast and colon cancers. For example, the Cancer Prevention Coalition argues that use of rBGH increases level of insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1, already present naturally in cows and humans (4). While human and natural bovine IGF-1 are bound to protein, synthetic IGF-1 is unbound, making it more biologically active (5). This is a significant finding given that IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization or digestion and can be absorbed across the intestinal wall (1) . The link to cancer becomes more apparent after considering the function of IGF-1: to induce the division and multiplication of normal human breast epithelial cells (4). In addition, it has been suggested that IGF-1 maintains the malignancy of breast cancer cells and inhibits apoptosis, the process by which unwanted cells essentially commit suicide (programmed cell destruction) . In this way, increased
levels of IGF-1 inhibit the possible elimination of cancerous cells

Besides the effects on humans, IGF-1 is also said to affect rBGH cows, leading to an increased occurrence of pathological lesions, infertility and chronic mastitis (2). Mastitis, or udder infection, is of particular importance because it presents the possibility that pus from infected cows will contaminate milk (6). Additionally, increased occurrence of infections necessitates the increased usage of antibiotics,leading in turn to possible antibiotic resistance or allergic reactions (5).

The dairy industry however stands firm in its rejection of the notion that rBGH milk differs in any way from non-rBGH milk. This argumentation has been led by Monsanto, the $4.7 billion multinational corporation which is the sole commercial producer of rBGH in the United States. Data from Monsanto released to the FDA (but not to the public) revealed up to an 80% increase in the occurrence of mastitis and "resulting contamination of milk with statistically significant levels of pus; this will necessitate virtually routine use of antibiotics, with attendant risks of allergic reactions and antibiotic resistance" (4). Despite these claims and the
company's own data, Monsanto together with the International Dairy Foods Association(IDFA), contend that rBGH poses no health risks. Rather, they argue, bovine growth hormones occur naturally in cows; the public should not change their milk consumption based on a poor knowledge of biotechnology or on misleading claims made by organic milk companies (9). Monsanto states that there is no difference in cows treated with rBGH or in their milk nor has there been an increase in the occurrence of mastitis (7). This comes despite the statement made by Samuel Epstein of the Cancer Prevention Coalition that saturated fatty acids linked to heart disease increased in rBGH milk while thyroid hormone enzymes decreased (5). Monsanto representatives argue, however, that even when mastitis does occur, the infected cows are removed from the milk production process and safely treated (7). Furthermore, they conclude that rBST does not affect humans as it is biologically inactive once it enters the human body (8).

Finally, we see that this debate centers around claims of who is a better scientist. On the one hand, consumer and environmentalist groups attack Monsanto as an example of the perniciousness of multinational corporations which have turned the milk industry into agribusiness, potentially harming millions in order to increase their own profits. Monsanto, on the other hand, claims that biotechnology can be a powerful tool, if people will only accept it. In fact, Monsanto's official statements mention the potential use of biotechnology in alleviating world hunger: " 'We're taking calculated, appropriate steps. It's science-driven. It's the drive to feed more people, to solve finite food issues' " (7). In fact, while Monsanto currently sells products which increase yield or productivity, it is working on genetically-
engineered plants which would be more nutritious for consumers. Yet it is consumer groups, such as the Consumers Union, which attack Monsanto as overlooking consumers in their own greed for more profit. The House Committee on Government Operations stated " 'that Monsanto and the FDA have chosen to suppress and manipulate animal health test data–in efforts to approve commercial use' " (5). This report is similar to one published previously concluding that the " 'FDA has consistently disregarded its responsibility–has repeatedly put what it perceives are interests of veterinarians and the livestock industry ahead of its legal obligation to protect consumers..' " (5). While Monsanto continues to argue that its facilities use good science to produce sound products, 9 million cows are being
injected with rBGH in the United States, leaving consumers to answer the question: is Milk really Milk? In short, is genetic engineering the key to the future, to the alleviation of world hunger or is it just an example of bad science?

WWW Sources
"Monsanto's Hormonal Milk Poses Serous Risks of Breast Cancer, Besides Other Cancers
from Cancer Prevention Coalition website.

, from the National Post.

, from the St.Louis Post-Dispatch.

4)"A Needless New Risk of Breast Cancer", from the Los Angeles Times.

5)"The 'Milk is
Milk' Industry Campaign Threatens Public Health"
, from Ascribe Newswire.

6)"Genetic Engineering Stuck in the Dark Ages of Science", from Greenpeace

"Monsanto's Vision of Biotech"
, from Portland Press Herald.

, from Monsanto website.

9) "Biotechnology
and BST"
, from International Dairy Foods Association website.

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