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Safety of Mosanto's rBGH (Bovine Growth Hormone)


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#121 stovetop

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 02:51 PM

Long-Term Field Experiment in Sweden: Effects of Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers on Soil Fertility and Crop Quality

Organic Dairy Profile

University of California Sustainable Agriculture

PCC Sound Consumer Farming the future at WSU

Organic Production vs. Conventional Cropping


OK; here is some info from the sustainable agri. point of view based on SCIENCE, there is so much out there
The one thing everyone misses out and does not have to do with science but economics, the question is do we really need-rBGH milk. The last time I looked in Canada
I saw the results for the liquid milk industry, there is an oversupply of milk, and also from what I can gather in the US there does not seem to be a shortage of milk. You do need to be a rocket scientist to know that if there is and will not be a shortage, to what advantage is it to introduce a hormone to increase milk production on a farm. The whole side of the discussion in regards to the side effects on cows and humans becomes a very mute point.

As for the green revolution; what green revolution??
Sustainable agriculture has been around as long as human kind has been around; the Organic industry (is that green) did not invent re-generative farming it was around a long time ago. It was the introduction of chemical farming after world war two (DDT), the practice of intense farming and the introduction of man made fertilizers (corporate). This is where farming changed not the other way around.

Science can and will show us how much more effective sustainable, re-generative, traditional farming is. The study of soil degredation; the over introduction of fossil fuels into the mix and the long term affects. There are tones of term papers out there; look around do a google search or a AJ search. it is out there.

As for organic milk, is there a difference, the research is out there??? and ongoing but for me Organic is just a marketing board not a way of farming, sustainability for me is the practice.
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#122 R Washburn

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 03:16 PM

You do need to be a rocket scientist to know that if there is and will not be a shortage, to what advantage is it to introduce a hormone to increase milk production on a farm. 


I would guess efficiency. And if that means fewer resources are used to produce an equivalent product that is a good thing.

#123 docsconz

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 04:20 PM

I stand corrected.  You endorse non-rBGH milk, but don't favor Organic.

What is the risk again for the rBGH milk?  Monsanto's involvement makes it probable that health risks are being concealed by some giant global conspiracy?

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I suggest you go back and reread the thread as I am tired of repeating myself.
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#124 R Washburn

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 08:12 AM

I also agree that synthetic does not necessarily mean unhealthy. Nevertheless, I remain quite skeptical of the milk from  BGH treated cows as well as any studies that have concluded it "safe".

For example, looking at the world at large, there appears to be some major shifting of some disease profiles going on. Diabetes is probably the most prominent. Now I am not saying that the marked increase in diabetes is due to the use of BGH. That is too far a stretch and too complex a problem to lay at the foot of a single culprit. It is, however, troubling and I cannot say that the hormone is not involved in that or other issues, either.

The problem with declaring it safe is that the epidemiology is very complex and cause and effect associations are very difficult to prove, especially when there is a lot of money behind a particular product. I simply do not trust the current results. As a result, I prefer to avoid the product for now and have my family drink the older product that is relatively tried and true.  Everything we eat and drink has some risk. In my job I have to assess risk vs. benefit and balance them as best I can. I do not see that benefit outweighs the risks with this product.

I am saying that I am still skeptical of BGH. I am also not anti-technology. Many real advances have been made. But then not all advances are real or real significant. I still fail to see what the potential benefit of this technology is to me. I do see the risks.

What I did say is that there are a number of health issues such as diabetes that are mysteriously on the rise. The cause or causes are unknown. My principle point is that it is a very complex issue and because a single study of a commercial product even in a reputable journal such as Science, deems it "safe", doesn't necessarily mean it is so. There are potentially other factors besides direct effects on an organism. I am not saying that the additional use of this hormone is bad. I don't know that. I am just not yet convinced of its value (to me) and that it is not bad.

The study may or may not be a good one, but this statement is more than a little condescending and more than a little inaccurate. I have been involved in the world of science and scientific studies since 1977. My undergraduate major was in molecular genetics and I have been involved in laboratory and clinical studies over the years including having  published and cited work.


However, a scientist knows that what is today's fact is often tomorrow's falacy. I am not saying that the study is wrong, but I do remain skeptical of it, Monsanto and the industry in general. I also remain very skeptical of the business of science. We all know that numbers can be used in many different ways to support arguments and scientific studies can be and are often manipulated toward a desired result. I fear that this is especially the case in industrial science in which scientists' livelihoods rest on the backs of their industrial supporters. I am not saying that the scientists are fudging data or corrupt. I am saying  that it is easy to manipulate data and results to prove a point and that it is easy to withhold data that does not support a point. Whether that is the case with this topic or not I can not say, however, the possibility of it is one reason I remain skeptical of it. Skepticism is a trait that any reputable scientist should have.




The major argument I have been making doesn't even concern the question of direct effects on human health. I am more concerned about the indirect effects on health and the environment based upon needs for increased or persistent need for antibiotic coverage and the potential for development of resistance, etc. I certainly don't trust Monsanto to evaluate that properly. There is certainly the potential with any new technology to have many hidden risks and costs. Some technologies, including many potential uses for recombinant genetics have potential benefits that are readily apparent and worth taking some degree of risk for. I still fail to see that for this technology, even if I were to accept that the potential for direct effect on human health is minimal.

don't believe it is a conspiracy either. I never accused anyone of conspiracy. I just don't think that Monsanto's motives necessarily intertwine with what may be in the longterm best interest of the Earth and its inhabitants. I have admitted that the direct health effects of rBGH may not be significant for humans, although I still remain skeptical even if the scientific methods are flawless. I have seen too many instances in very respected journals where even years later, dogma has ultimately been refuted.

still think that this would be a daunting study to do without the assistance of Monsanto and I doubt that they would give it willingly as they don't have anything to gain from it and potentially a lot to lose. My concerns about the product remain, however, even if I concede that it is likely to be safe as far as direct human health effects on humans ingesting the milk derived from animals to whom it has been applied- see below.

Believe what you will. I have tried to counter your arguments with logic, but have been faced with a lot of ad hominem assumptions. I will not address this issue further with you if you continue to make those assumptions. Although I am not absolutely convinced that the potential for direct health effects are inconsequential, the possibility that they are not is not the crux of my argument. I am personally more concerned about wider issues that are not reflected in the Science article. If you wish to address the ideas directly or the issues I would be very happy to continue this discussion, however, if you continue to simply claim that you are a scientist and thererfore know better on that basis than count me out.


I do not purport to have all the answers, just a large dose of skepticism regarding promises not being kept and unexpected problems developing.

I am not saying that the product should be taken off the market or that because I have concerns and remain skeptical of the product and the motives of the company behind it that everyone else  must follow suit. I do know, however, that as good as science has been and is, the whole concept is changing as the rules change due to the influence of industry and big business. The free flow of ideas is no longer what it was as there is now a much greater emphasis on the need for industrial secrets and the potential financial ramifications of information. This is big business and we must not kid ourselves otherwise. As such the intersts of business and the public are not always necessarily aligned. As such, I remain skeptical. That is different from me saying that the study is wrong. I have never said that nor could I as I do not have the specific expertise to make that assertion. My point is, it really matters little to the argument.

Not having receptors only means that it won't have a specific endocrine type effect. It can still have an immunologic effect. This can be unpredictable as well and vary potentially from person to person. That was one of the biggest problems with porcine insulin.

I believe I studied a thing or two about them in Organic  Chemistryand beyond. To pick on this is truly nitpicking. Nathan, you make a lot of intersting points here. I believe that you are above that.


I got it now. 1) You do not concede any benefit from rBGH milk (although it presumably is cheaper to make, which most would consider beneficial). 2) You can imagine a risk, although you are unable to assess the degree of risk. 3) Therefore risk>reward, avoid rBGH milk.

#125 docsconz

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 10:53 AM

I got it now.  1) You do not concede any benefit from rBGH milk (although it presumably is cheaper to make, which most would consider beneficial). 2) You can imagine a risk, although you are unable to assess the degree of risk. 3) Therefore risk>reward, avoid rBGH milk.

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That is a pretty good summary of a number of my posts on the matter (thank you) and your statement a fair one. Of course, I must quibble about one point, though :laugh:

While rBGH enhanced milk production may be cheaper in the near term, I am not convinced that it is for the long term given my concerns. As a result I prefer to purchase non-rBGH enhanced milk. I am fortunate enough where I live to be able to buy in our local Hannaford's Supermarket milk from Vermont Family Farms. This milk, though not labeled "organic" and not significantly more expensive than the regular supermarket brands, is promoted as being free of any "artificial hormones" They state on the container,

To satisfy our consumers, all of our farmers pledge not to use artificial growth hormones


In addition, the package reads:

vermont dairy farms are special. And so is Vermont Family Farms Milk. Our farmers believe milk produced by healthy cows in their clean and natural environment has a special freshness unique to Vermont. That's why we treat our farms and cows with care and respect. We care for our cows and the land. Our Vermont farmers specialize in raising milk cows - we even grow our own feed to ensure the highest quality milk. since our farms have a small number of cows, we're able to give special attention to every individual cow. We even know them by name. because of our commitment to our farms, our cows and our state, we pledge that our cows are not treated with any artificial hormones. So you can be surre Vermont Family Farms Milk is the freshest, best tasting milk for your family.


It so happens that this milk is pretty darned good and at least as good as anything else available to us in the supermarket. Is marketing involved with that statement quoted above? Of course. It happens to fill a niche that I like, though. that is supporting smaller scale agriculture close to whom in a way that I feel is responsible to the environment. If there were a similarly labeled product from even closer to my home, I would buy that preferentially. It makes no matter to me whether or not it is labelled "organic". Unfortunately (or fortunately for me and my family), this particular product is not more widely available, although I suspect similar products from other areas may be. I am fortunate that i have the wherewithal to be able to spend a little more on products that i see as potentially having more long term value. As such, I try to put my money where my mouth is. :smile:

One other word about the "organic" industry and why the label is not so important to me. I like to buy a lot of what my family eats locally if possible. This includes essentially all the pork, lamb, chicken and beefalo that we eat. I do not believe that any of the producers that we buy from and we know them all personally are certified organic. They all, however, practice agriculture using sustainable principles (that is another topic in itself - see Slow Food). In fact a couple of them have been selected by Slow Food for their Terra Madre program. One of the reasons they don't go for the certification is that they do use antibiotics occassionally on their animals. They will treat particular problems in individual animals, but they do not use them for standard prophylaxis. I consider that a rational and responsible approach to animal husbandry, that is technically banned by the "organic" certification process or so I understand.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#126 docsconz

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 11:07 AM

Here is an interesting link that deals with some of the topics discussed here. Of particular interest:

Should corporations have the right to withhold information from consumers about how their food is made?

The VFF's marketing efforts come as a battle over Vermont's BST labeling law comes to an end. That law required retailers to label products made with milk from BST-treated cows. The International Dairy Foods Association and other groups challenged it and in early August, 1996, a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York effectively struck down the law saying that it's likely to be held unconstitutional. The action reversed an early decision by a U. S. District Court judge who had ruled in favor of the law saying that Vermont consumers have shown an overwhelming interest in getting this information. Within a few days of the Court of Appeals ruling, Vermont said it would challenge it. But, at the end of August, Vermont said it was withdrawing the challenge because of the legal costs. So, the issue appears to be over for the moment, but as Roberta MacDonald, the head of Cabot's marketing department remarks, the consumer hasn't seen nothing yet. "There are at least another 20 biotech inventions waiting to hit the dairy industry!"


Here is an interesting timeline. It discusses political motivations for and against BGH/BST but little in the analysis of possible impacts. Nevertheless, it is interesting.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#127 Pan

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 01:45 PM

I read an article on Ha'aretz that might be relevant to aspects of the discussion in this thread:

More milk means more udder pain for cows

Here's an illustrative paragraph:

Numerous studies in the U.S. and Europe have consistently shown that the frequency of udder inflammation, lameness and fertility problems increases in direct proportion to the increase of milk production. The genetic enhancement process comes at a cost to the health and well-being of the animal, since the body systems cannot withstand the burden of the intensive activity required by the augmented milk production, thereby effecting a continuous decline in the average life expectancy of the cow.


Also mentioned are numerous hoof problems, including "abscesses that erupt inside the hoof."

#128 stovetop

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 04:29 PM

QUOTE(R Washburn @ Nov 3 2005, 10:12 AM)

I got it now.  1) You do not concede any benefit from rBGH milk (although it presumably is cheaper to make, which most would consider beneficial). 2) You can imagine a risk, although you are unable to assess the degree of risk. 3) Therefore risk>reward, avoid rBGH milk.


John Sconzo, aka "docsconz"
That is a pretty good summary of a number of my posts on the matter (thank you) and your statement a fair one. Of course, I must quibble about one point, though 

While rBGH enhanced milk production may be cheaper in the near term, I am not convinced that it is for the long term given my concerns. As a result I prefer to purchase non-rBGH enhanced milk. I am fortunate enough where I live to be able to buy in our local Hannaford's Supermarket milk from Vermont Family Farms. This milk, though not labeled "organic" and not significantly more expensive than the regular supermarket brands, is promoted as being free of any "artificial hormones" They state on the container,


Wow!! Are we coming to a cross roads, it seems now we each have really communicated our point of views and ironed out each others points that where not clear; R washburn are you so convinced that the need for an outside variable really needs to be added. Is it really just a defense on science or is it because you felt that we where being emotional about the science part and not logical, of outside or new introductions of chemicals( proteins, hormones, bla-bla) into the mix??

John Sconzo, aka "docsconz"
“One other word about the "organic" industry and why the label is not so important to me. I like to buy a lot of what my family eats locally if possible. This includes essentially all the pork, lamb, chicken and beefalo that we eat. I do not believe that any of the producers that we buy from and we know them all personally are certified organic. They all, however, practice agriculture using sustainable principles (that is another topic in itself - see Slow Food). In fact a couple of them have been selected by Slow Food for their Terra Madre program. One of the reasons they don't go for the certification is that they do use antibiotics occassionally on their animals. They will treat particular problems in individual animals, but they do not use them for standard prophylaxis. I consider that a rational and responsible approach to animal husbandry, that is technically banned by the "organic" certification process or so I understand”


John I still think that their practices are sustainable and they (the farmers you are talking about) are very aware of all inputs into the farm. I question the Organic industry, it does not include all inputs, such as gas (transportation); In BC in the middle of the summer when the organic people are importing product from California (we have so much local food around) does not the input of fossils fuels into the environment be included in their measurement of the introduction of overall fossil fuels? This is as opposed to lower mainland people buying local produce that is not certified organic. I wonder what the difference is?? This for me is as big as a conundrum as the whole process of introducing a protein or hormone into a closed farm system to increase milk production when there is really not a shortage of milk, where is the gain??
A question about the cost??
Is the cost is high; are you including all the cost of research into the mix; how many years id all thoses scientist work on that project before the US gov let the research go into the production

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#129 docsconz

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 09:41 AM

Here is a reprint of an article from MSNBC about the debate over the safety of BGH supplementation in dairy cattle. Granted, this is not a scholarly article, though it does a good job in expressing the concerns re: health, many of which have been brought up on this board. Although, I was not aware of this specific concern when I used it as an example of the kinds of health problems increasing in prevalence in the US, if not the world, there is a discussion on rBGH and a possible diabetes link. Clearly there is not enough evidence to make a distinct and unassailable connection between the two, however, it does provide food for thought.

For example, Epstein charges, studies have shown that insulin-like
growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a protein that is present in slightly higher levels
in milk from hormone-treated cows than "natural" milk, has been linked to
cancer in many studies.

Another health risk, suggests William von Meyer, a retired chemist who
tested chemicals for the chemical company Rohm & Haas, is that the protein
could enhance diabetes in people prone to the disease.


I just returned from an unrelated conference at my collegiate alma mater, at which I had the opportunity to chat with the Dean of the Faculty, who also happens to be an Environmental Biologist. While she is not an expert on the specifics of the rBGH question, she did state that individual and environmental health risks can still be present even if the hormone does not get into the human food supply from milk. Other potential avenues of concern could be through excretion of a hormone via urine or feces with concomitant run-off into the environment. Hormones (not necessarily rBGH, but possibly) can then have deleterious health effects on other animals, which could then have an environmental impact and/or adverse human health consequences. This is a potential avenue of impact that I hadn't even considered. This may or may not be a factor for rBGH, but I don't know if information about this is available if it has even been studied.

To reiterate my concerns, but stating them slightly differently than I have: If milk was a rare commodity in short supply and increased production of a limited but important resource was really necessary than the use of this technology might justify taking the risks at this time.. That production in the US and Canada is not really an issue now balances the equation such that I believe much additional consideration needs to be given to this technology before widespread use is adopted. Unfortunately, it may already be too late for that. Perhaps at best, we can hope that the concerns expressed here and elsewhere don't pan out to reality.
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#130 docsconz

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 09:46 AM

John Sconzo, aka "docsconz"
“One other word about the "organic" industry and why the label is not so important to me. I like to buy a lot of what my family eats locally if possible. This includes essentially all the pork, lamb, chicken and beefalo that we eat. I do not believe that any of the producers that we buy from and we know them all personally are certified organic. They all, however, practice agriculture using sustainable principles (that is another topic in itself - see Slow Food). In fact a couple of them have been selected by Slow Food for their Terra Madre program. One of the reasons they don't go for the certification is that they do use antibiotics occassionally on their animals. They will treat particular problems in individual animals, but they do not use them for standard prophylaxis. I consider that a rational and responsible approach to animal husbandry, that is technically banned by the "organic" certification process or so I understand”


John I still think that their practices are sustainable and they (the farmers you are talking about) are very aware of all inputs into the farm. I question the Organic industry, it does not include all inputs, such as gas (transportation); In BC in the middle of the summer when the organic people are importing product from California (we have so much local food around) does not the input of fossils fuels into the environment be included in their measurement of the introduction of overall fossil fuels? This is as opposed to lower mainland people buying local produce that is not certified organic. I wonder what the difference is?? This for me is as big as a conundrum as the whole process of introducing a protein or hormone into a closed farm system to increase milk production when there is really not a shortage of milk, where is the gain??

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That I think those farms are practicing sustainable agriculture is one of two reasons I buy from them even if it is at a bit of a premium. The other reason is that the products are darned good :wink:
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#131 docsconz

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 10:00 AM

Here's more from Science News with references on the potential environmental effects of steroid applications in cattle with particular emphasis on the potential effects of run-off. While this particular article does not specifally discuss rBGH, similar concerns exist.

Many cattle are fed the same muscle-building androgens—usually testosterone surrogates—that some athletes consume. Other animals receive estrogens, the primary female sex hormones, or progestins, semiandrogenic agents that shut down a female's estrus cycle. Progestins fuel meat-building by freeing up resources that would have gone into the reproductive cycle.

While federal law prohibits people from self-medicating with most steroids, administering these drugs to U.S. cattle is not only permissible but de rigueur.

So far, almost all concern about this practice has focused on whether trace residues of these hormones in the meat have human-health consequences. But there's another way that these powerful agents can find their way into people and other animals. A substantial portion of the hormones literally passes through the cattle into their feces and ends up in the environment, where it can get into other food and drinking water.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#132 docsconz

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 10:14 AM

Another interesting discussion with citations of the potential direct human health effects of rBGH and why more formal dissent may be rare. This is by no means definitive, but definitiveness of the risk is not the point. This and so many other discussions raise a significant specterof doubt about this technology that have not been adequately answered in my opinion. If and when they are adequately answered or the benefits to society justify the risks, I will be the first to embrace the technology(ies).

I will take a little breather before I rack up too many posts in a row without further discussion :laugh:
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#133 R Washburn

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 10:19 AM

While she is not an expert on the specifics of the rBGH question, she did state that individual and environmental health risks can still be present even if the hormone does not get into the human food supply from milk.


Did she understand that rBGH is not a hormone (in Humans) but merely another bovine protein and present in only trace quantities in the milk? And that, even in animals where it is a hormone, it has no detectable activity when administered orally?

#134 docsconz

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 10:24 AM

While she is not an expert on the specifics of the rBGH question, she did state that individual and environmental health risks can still be present even if the hormone does not get into the human food supply from milk.


Did she understand that rBGH is not a hormone (in Humans) but merely another bovine protein and present in only trace quantities in the milk? And that, even in animals where it is a hormone, it has no detectable activity when administered orally?

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That discussion did not specifically relate that risk to rBGH. She is not an expert on that particular issue. Instead, the point was more of a general one as an additional concern other than direct transmission via milk or animal protein. Whther this applies specifically to rBGH as a potential concern has not to my knowledge been addressed. That rBGH amy not have detectable activity when administered orally to animals that were tested does not necessarily mean that it cannot effect other animals present in an environment that hadn't been tested, for example various fish, amphibians and reptiles.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#135 R Washburn

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 10:32 AM

That rBGH amy not have detectable activity when administered orally to animals that were tested does not necessarily mean that it cannot effect other animals present in an environment that hadn't been tested, for example various fish, amphibians and reptiles.



But you would agree that I have a better chance of obtaining the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket by holding my open hand out of my window for 10 minutes and waiting for it to land on my palm than for rBGH to be an environmental hazard?

#136 docsconz

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Posted 06 November 2005 - 11:16 AM

That rBGH amy not have detectable activity when administered orally to animals that were tested does not necessarily mean that it cannot effect other animals present in an environment that hadn't been tested, for example various fish, amphibians and reptiles.



But you would agree that I have a better chance of obtaining the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket by holding my open hand out of my window for 10 minutes and waiting for it to land on my palm than for rBGH to be an environmental hazard?

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That may be so, but then the potential implications are very different :laugh:

In actuality, I don't really know all the environmental hazard potentials for rBGH, which is what I am most concerned about. It would appear that the potential environmental hazards of rBGH are significantly less than some of the gonadophilic hormones given to cattle and other livestock, but I really have yet to come across much directly addressing the issue. So no, I actually can't agree with your statement. While it is conceivable that the environmental hazards of this agent may not be high, I would venture that they are likely a bit higher than what you suggested. I would even suggest that they are higher than the odds of your winning that lottery even if you bought a ticket and had it in your hand up and were there at the lottery drawing! :raz: Again, environmental hazards can come in many different guises, those considered and those not. I hadn't even previously considered the possibility of waste run-off as a potential issue.

Everything in life has risk to some degree or another. We must not be paralyzed because of the mere possibility of risk, but then we mustn't bull ahead without considering all the potential ramifications. Indeed these potential ramifications always need to be regarded against the potential benefits. Unfortunately, it is usually easier to assess the potential benefits than it is the risks.

I am an anesthesiologist. The risk for an otherwise healthy person incurring significant morbidity and mortality undergoing anesthesia for routine surgery prior to the mid 1980's was somewhere around 1 in 4-5,000 anesthetics administered. While these were pretty good odds for any given individual, bad things could and did happen with a relatively high frequency. For a number of reasons including major scientific advances in monitoring, pharmacology and training that risked has dropped probably 100-fold today. We are now able to do cases routinely and safely that previously we would never even dream about. Nevertheless, despite all the advances and the best care, an occasional major complication for an otherwise healthy person still occurs and the risks for less healthy people are significantly greater. Does that mean we avoid anesthesia and surgery? Absolutely not. It does mean, however, that each individual case needs to considered on its own merits and the risks of a particular procedure weighed against the procedure's anticipated benefits both by the physicians involved and the patient. Occasionally, we cancel surgery when we feel that the potential risks are too great or, said differently, not low enough compared to the anticipated benefit. Although the scale and the implications are different for the question(s) discussed here, I don't see the necessary approach as being different. If anything, given the potential scale of the risks, we need to be even more conservative with the environment than we are in surgery, where an adverse outcome effects particularly one person or a small group of people.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#137 docsconz

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Posted 09 November 2005 - 12:58 PM

Today's NYTimes Dining and Wine section published three articles pertinent to this discussion. Coincidence? I think not.:wink: They areAn Organic Cash Cow and Bottle of White by Kim Severson and A Hormone for Cows by Marian Burros.

The first one discusses the organic milk industry. From the article:

The ethos of organic milk - one that its cartons reinforce - conjures lush pastures dotted with grazing animals, their milk production driven by nothing more than nature's hand and a helpful family farmer.

But choosing organic milk doesn't guarantee much beyond this: It comes from a cow whose milk production was not prompted by an artificial growth hormone, whose feed was not grown with pesticides and which had "access to pasture," a term so vague it could mean that a cow might spend most of its milk-producing life confined to a feed lot eating grain and not grass.

and

First, weigh the importance of the organic label. Milk from the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in the Hudson Valley, which is sold in bottles at Manhattan's Greenmarkets, is not certified organic. The dairy uses no artificial growth hormones, but it treats sick animals with antibiotics. In the summer the animals eat mostly pasture; in the winter they eat hay with grain mixed in.

It is a sustainable operation whose owners decided that the term "organic" was becoming co-opted by large corporations, and that the extra cost of the federal organic label was not worth it. For some, milk that has not traveled far and that comes from cows in small pasture-based operations is more important than an official stamp.


The article basically goes on to say that while "organic" producers need to conform to rules, those rules are not necessarily what consumers have in mind. She particularly notes confinement and access to pasture rules as having large gray areas for the industrial organics to skirt through. This is one reason why I don't defend the "organic" industry per se.

The second article was about a blinded taste test of various brands of milk. The tasters generally picked milks that conformed to their experience.

But the best? There was no clear winner. It turned out that preferences depended on what tasters thought milk should taste like. One writer preferred the nonorganic supermarket brand because it reminded him of the innocuous, bland milk he drank while growing up. Another writer's favorite turned out to be the brand of organic milk she regularly buys for her child. A taster who prefers raw milk liked the more pronounced flavor of low-temperature pasteurized milk produced by cows that eat mostly grass and hay.


The third article is that one that most closely takes on the issues discussed here. It is a well balanced article that outlines some of the direct health risks associated with rBGH:

But milk from cows treated with rbGH has higher levels of insulin-like growth factor-1, referred to as IGF-1, than that from untreated cows, according to figures Monsanto sent to the F.D.A.

The missing link is whether milk from rbGH-treated cows translates into higher IFG-1 levels in humans than milk from untreated cows.

Research reported in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics showed that IGF-1 largely survives digestion.

Studies show that elevated levels of IGF-1 in the body are linked to increased risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer. Susan E. Hankinson of Harvard Medical School, the lead researcher in one such study, said, "Prospective studies see little or no relationship in postmenopausal women, but in premenopausal women, the levels of IGF-1 tended to show positive association."

The article went on to say

In 2000, the F.D.A. said that the agency "continues to maintain that levels of IGF-1, whether or not from rbGH supplemented cows, are not significant when evaluated against levels of IGF-1 endogenously produced and present in humans."


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#138 R Washburn

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 08:14 AM

Doc,
You realize that the BGH treatment is only increasing IGF-1 levels four-fold? If BGH treated milk is dangerous than so is organic milk. We are talking about a 4-fold increase (from an average of six billionths of a gram per milliliter to 24 billionths of a gram/ml) of an orally inactive hormone.

So if I drink a million liters of rBGH treated milk a day I would still be ingesting less IGF-1 than the rats did in the FDA studies, and those doses had no effect.

Edited by R Washburn, 10 November 2005 - 09:06 AM.


#139 docsconz

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 11:59 AM

Doc,
      You realize that the BGH treatment is only increasing IGF-1 levels four-fold?  If BGH treated milk is dangerous than so is organic milk.  We are talking about a 4-fold increase (from an average of six billionths of a gram per milliliter to 24 billionths of a gram/ml) of an orally inactive hormone. 

So if I drink a million liters of rBGH treated milk a day I would still be ingesting less IGF-1 than the rats did in the FDA studies, and those doses had no effect.

View Post


A Fourfold increase in IGF-1 levels may be enough to be significant. Non-rBGH milk (I will use that instead of "organic"), therefore, is not necesarily as risky as rBGH milk, although you are correct that it is not proven that either puts one at high risk. That rats don't appear to have a significant problem with rBGH is certainly reassuring, but rats are not humans and do not necessarily react the same way humans do. The rat model, while a good and useful one and perhaps the best one at our disposal, is still not perfect. The data looking at the effects of IGF-1 in humans, though not conclusive, remains IMO cause for concern. I am not suggesting that rBGH be removed from the market, even though I believe it was put on too hastily. I will, however, for the time being , prefer to support dairies not using the hormone for the combination of reasons expressed all along.

By the way, thanks for coming back in. I was starting to get lonely here :laugh:
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#140 stovetop

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 05:06 PM

Today's NYTimes Dining and Wine section published three articles pertinent to this discussion. Coincidence? I think not. They areAn Organic Cash Cow and Bottle of White by Kim Severson and A Hormone for Cows by Marian Burros.



thanks docsconz for the linx
steve
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#141 slkinsey

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 12:01 AM

While the tests were done on rats and not humans, it would seem reasonable to say that according to the best scientific evidence we have before us, there is no supportable reason to suppose that the amounts of IGF-1 likely to be consumed by humans in even the most dairy-centric diet pose a significant health risk.

The data are not saying that a human would have to drink 5 liters of rBHG milk every day to approach the levels that were found to have no effect in rat studies... the data are saying that it would have to be over a million liters. Yes, I suppose we can say that IGF-1 may have some risks. But we can also say that aliens may live on the dark side of the moon. Neither one seems very likely according to the best data we seem to have (and rat studies have a long history of correlating highly with human outcomes).
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#142 docsconz

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 04:04 AM

While the tests were done on rats and not humans, it would seem reasonable to say that according to the best scientific evidence we have before us, there is no supportable reason to suppose that the amounts of IGF-1 likely to be consumed by humans in even the most dairy-centric diet pose a significant health risk.

The data are not saying that a human would have to drink 5 liters of rBHG milk every day to approach the levels that were found to have no effect in rat studies... the data are saying that it would have to be over a million liters.  Yes, I suppose we can say that IGF-1 may have some risks.  But we can also say that aliens may live on the dark side of the moon.  Neither one seems very likely according to the best data we seem to have (and rat studies have a long history of correlating highly with human outcomes).

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If this were something in which the benefits were clear, I would agree. I still do not see any real benefit, however, and combined with the environmental concerns I believe this technology remains a net negative.

I didn't question this previously, but where is the data cited on the rats taken from?
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#143 R Washburn

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 08:30 AM

I didn't question this previously, but where is the data cited on the rats taken from?

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They are in that summary of the FDA data published in Science back in 1990. They were very thorough in examining the IGF-1 issues. Rats are, if anything, an unfairly sensitive model since they have receptors for BGH, whereas Humans do not. To them it is a hormone, to us rBGH is just food.

One interesting thing coming out of this story, aside from the fact that rBGH milk may be one of the safest foods on the market, is the "money trail". rBGH milk in my neighborhood costs $2.99/gallon whereas Organic milk is $3.69 /half gallon or $7.38/ gallon. This must translate into a tiny profit for Monsanto (a few cents a gallon?) but what looks like an enormous profit for the organic milk producer.

All this fear mongering by the anti-BGH crowd is fueling enormous profits by the Organic milk producers, which would be lost if rBGH was banned. Of course there is zero chance of the FDA banning rBGH milk, since it has passed every conceivable test with flying colors.

Edited by R Washburn, 11 November 2005 - 09:27 AM.


#144 Suzanne Podhaizer

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 09:16 AM

Quoting R Washburn

rBGH milk in my neighborhood costs $2.99/gallon whereas Organic milk is $3.69 /half gallon or $7.38/ gallon. This must translate into a tiny profit for Monsanto (a few cents a gallon?) but what looks like an enormous profit for the organic milk producer.


My comment below is slightly off the main topic, and I'm frightened to step into this particular debate for various reasons, but I want to note that in most cases, the prices of organic products are higher not because the farmers are making huge profits and laughing all the way to the bank, but because it costs more money to produce the same amount of milk/vegetables/meat using organic methodology.

I live in Vermont where there are many conventional and organic dairy farmers, as well as many conventional and regular vegetable farmers. I have more experience with the organic vegetable farmers myself, but they are working just as hard as the conventional farmers (and perhaps sometimes harder, since they can't use some of the shortcut techniques available in conventional ag), and none of the ones I know have very much money. Many of these farmers give crops to the foodshelf, accept foodstamps at Farmer's Market, and particpate in Farm Share programs so that people can have access to their products at a lower cost. Most of the small organic farmers are choosing to raise their animals/crops the way they do because they believe it is the right thing to do, not because they are getting rich.

It may be different in other parts of the country though, if there are bigger, more mechanized organic farms that end up charging the same amount for their products as do the small organic farms. Also, I wonder if the grocery stores contribute to price inflation on organic/local products...

An effect of the higher cost of rgbh free milk (whether organic or not) is that even consumers who aren't comfortable with the growth hormone (who would like to see longer term studies on the effects, who don't want to support Monsanto's products for ethical reasons, or who would prefer to drink local milk because of other sustainability issues), might feel stuck purchasing said product.
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#145 R Washburn

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 09:34 AM

Demand for organic milk outstrips supply, and therefore the price carries a huge premium, at least in NYC. Where Doc lives there is no difference in price.

#146 slkinsey

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 10:15 AM

hungry for knowledge, I think it also has to do with the "organic" milk as well.

Some organic milk comes from small, local farms where the cows are fed mostly grass, graze outdoors to the greatest extent possible, the milk is heat treated the minimum amount, etc. This milk is more costly to produce, for these reasons and also due to economies of scale, and the farmers likely need to charge more simply to stay in business.

That said, it is also true that a large number of the best local farms doing this kind of thing (e.g., Ronnybrook) are actually not certified as "organic." This is because certification is expensive and also because they their sick with antibiotics if/when they get sick (they do not, however, give subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics). This milk also costs more than regular supermarket milk for reasons similar to those given above.

There are also large organic megafarms. These places operate more or less along the same lines as conventional dairy megafarms, the main difference being that the cows eat "organic" feed and the cows are not given hormones or antibiotics. This is somewhat more expensive than making conventional milk, but with economies of scale and competitive pricing, this "organic" milk shouldn't be all that much more expensive at the grocery store. On the other hand, it also won't taste much better than the conventional stuff either.
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#147 docsconz

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 06:42 PM

Demand for organic milk outstrips supply, and therefore the price carries a huge premium, at least in NYC.  Where Doc lives there is no difference in price.

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Actually "Organic" milk carries a price premium where I live as well. The product I mentioned above that is produced without BGH supplementation is not labeled "organic'. It is much more like the Ronnybrook type situation that Sam mentioned except that it is a cooperative and not a single farm. I share a lot of concerns about the "organic' industry as well. I would much rather buy locally from farmers I know practicing agriculture with techniques designed for sustainability and producing high quality produce resulting from the care they put into their work. I don't mind spending a bit more to support that kind of farming, most of which is not labelled "organic", even though many "organic" principles are used. To me it is not the label that is important. It is the methods used along with the quality of the product.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#148 *Deborah*

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 11:33 PM

I probably brought the whole "organic" label into this...I live in Canada, so our cows appear to be subjected to signficantly fewer hormones, treatments, etc., than the average American dairy cow. Nonetheless, I have found that some of our animal products are permitted things that A. I thought they weren't allowed, and B. that I would prefer not to ingest, so I use the term "organic" loosely. I agree with docsconz, who has defined his personal buying preferences several times in the course of this topic, that sustainable and less-medicated are more what I care to support, rather than some letter of the law "organic" label, which may or may not mean what you might think it does on the face of it.

I also say, for the record, that I think Monsanto's lawsuit(s?) to stop dairies publicizing their milk as "not treated with hormones or artificial hormones" or whatever the exact phrase was utterly reprehensible. But I suppose I find more than a little about Monsanto utterly reprehensible. :smile:

I do not scoff at science or "Science"...but I certainly have a right to eat what I choose.

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#149 ghostrider

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Posted 15 November 2005 - 10:15 PM

The label on Whole Foods' 365 brand of milk carries three prominent bullet points that leap out at the eye:

+ Vitamin A&D
+ Good source of protein
+ Dairy not treated with rBGH*

The asterisk leads to a fine-print statement that (I paraphrase) the FDA has said there's no significant difference between milk from treated & untreated cows, and no test can now distinguish between the two.

Whatever the scientific debate, rBGH clearly has entered the realm of marketing.
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#150 slkinsey

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Posted 15 November 2005 - 11:10 PM

. . . the FDA has said there's no significant difference between milk from treated & untreated cows, and no test can now distinguish between the two.

This bit is interesting. I'm a little surprised that there is no test that can tell the difference. Wouldn't a test for IGF-1 show a difference, per our discussion above?
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey