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Synthesis/Regeneration 20   (Fall, 1999)

EU Scientific Experts Point to Human Health Risks from rBST Use

Ban Milk Products with Cow Growth Hormone

The Greens in the European Parliament — Press Release
(Brussels, April 16, 1999)

The Green Group is calling for all milk and dairy products produced from cows treated with the controversial genetically engineered growth hormone, bovine somatotropin (rBST, also called BGH), to be banned in the EU and for rBST to be taken off the market word-wide. The UN body Codex Alimentarius, which acts as food safety advisor to the WTO, is to discuss a report on rBST in Paris. Greens are calling on the European Union delegates to demand a complete withdrawal of all product approvals.

The use and sale of the rBST drug, produced by Monsanto and Eli Lilly, was originally banned in Member States in 1990. This ban expires at the end of 1999 but is likely to be extended in the light of clear evidence of serious adverse impacts on the welfare of the cow, notably increased foot problems, mastitis and injection site swellings. Repeated injections of the genetically modified hormone are given to boost milk yield artificially by up to 15 percent.

The Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health (SCVM) has now reported to the European Commission that there is a possible "association between circulating IGF-1 levels and an increased relative risk of breast and prostate cancer." Levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), which also occurs naturally in milk, are substantially increased in milk from rBST-treated cows.

Commenting on the findings, Hiltrud Breyer MEP (Germany) said "This confirms what we have said repeatedly over the last few years—this product of genetic engineering is potentially dangerous to humans as well as to animals. Not only should it not be used to inject dairy cows, but all milk and dairy products derived from rBST treatment must be taken off the market immediately. If ever there was a clear-cut case for applying the precautionary principle, this is it." rBST is licensed for use not only in the USA but also in several Eastern European countries and is actually produced in the EU for export. Mrs Breyer added "We have to tell our neighbors that we will not buy their dairy products whilst they continue to use rBST and we should stop exporting it around the world."

Pointing to the international controversy on the safety question, Paul Lannoye, Belgian Green MEP, said "This is a product nobody wants and should be taken out of circulation immediately. Last year, the United Nations Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) recommended approval of this product but there is a strong suspicion of improper outside influence and selective use of scientific studies. The committee's report was apparently drafted by an ex-Monsanto employee and sensitive documents were leaked to the company before the final recommendation was made. It is time that this discredited decision-making process on food safety was brought under proper public scrutiny."

Gianni Tamino MEP (Italy) commented "The Codex decision-making process requires complete overhaul - the last study of the make-up of the advisory committee structure showed that proceedings were dominated by industry representatives either as members of their national delegations or as observers. I understand that this practice has not changed much since the Report was written."

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