Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: For an analysis of health concerns about rBGH, see this earlier story in the Albion Monitor.]

Cancer Link to rBGH Milk, Study Says

by Haider Rizvi

"Milk from cows injected with rBGH increases risks of breast and colon cancer"

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Demands for mandatory labeling of dairy products have increased following the release of findings from a recent study on genetically engineered food.

The study bolsters concerns among scientists and environmentalists about milk products that have been treated with biochemicals.

Millions of people in the United States who consume dairy products treated with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormones (rBGH), are at risk for cancer, according to scientists of the Chicago-based Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC), a coalition of independent health scientists and consumer advocacy groups.

"Milk from cows injected with rBGH increases risks of breast and colon cancer," says Samuel Epstein, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois, director of the CPC and the author of the new study.

As a result, health scientists and consumer advocates here have intensified campaigns for mandatory labeling of dairy products.

The FDA remains unmoved on the question of labeling of rBGH milk

The study shows that rBGH increases levels of an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in milk that causes cell growth and division in humans and cows.

IGF-1 regulates cell growth and division, particularly in children, and has been increasingly linked by modern research to human cancer.

"Increased IGF-1 levels in milk exert cancer-promoting effects directly on cells lining the colons and on breast cells, following absorption into the blood," Epstein explained.

The U.S.-based chemical giant Monsanto has been marketing its product since February 1994 following approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inject rBGH in cows.

RBGH manufacturers say the drug causes cows to produce up to 20 per cent more milk and that it also stimulates tissue production of IGF-1 levels of milk in those cows. "It increases efficiency of milk production in dairy cows," says Monsanto.

"Efficiency at the cost of what? At the cost of the lives of millions of consumers?" asks Michael Colby, executive director of Food and Water, a health advocacy group based in Vermont that has long demanded a ban on the production and marketing of rBGH.

"Only Monsanto is benefiting from this drug," he says, adding "It's time for dairy companies to side with consumers. They must not allow rBGH to be used by farmers."

Monsanto spokeswoman Stacey Soble justified the use of rBGH, saying, "It's perfectly safe. The FDA has already approved it, and since then there has been no published study" refuting the drug.

But CPC scientists argue that lack of enough published research should be no excuse for Monsanto.

Monsanto's "claim is based on false FDA assumptions about IGF-1,"says Keith Ashdown, a colleague of Epstein at CPC. "What they are saying is bad science."

A 1990 study by Epstein points out that IGF-1 milk can survive digestion. FDA officials, however, refused to endorse Epsteim's most recent findings on the adverse effects of rBGH by arguing that IGF-1, like all proteins, is degraded by digestion.

"IGF-1 from milk is insignificant compared to the daily endogenous human exposure," Richard Teske of the Department of Health and Human Services, told CPC.

The FDA also remains unmoved on the question of labeling of rBGH milk because it does not agree with Epstein's findings linking the biochemical to cancer.

The FDA is actually "prohibiting dairy producers and retailers from labeling their milk as hormone-free," complains Ashdown.

The CPC study claims that unlike untreated cows, cows injected with rBGH show concentrated amounts of IGF-1 in udder cells.

RBGH also increases udder infection in up to 80 per cent of cows injected, states the study. If not treated with antibiotics, the infections result in the contamination of milk with pus. On the other hand, the use of antibiotics, says Epstein, results in "residues passing through the milk for human consumption."

U.S. position on "no labeling" of genetically engineered food results from industry pressure

In 1990, the same year Epstein released his study on IGF-1 and nearly four years before it marketed rBGH, Monsanto experimented with growth-promoting effects on rats.

Last week, under increasing pressure from consumer, environmental and farm groups, the European Parliament voted to require mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered food products sold in Europe.

Inspired by the European consumers' victory, many U.S. environmental groups are planning a series of protests in Ottawa where the Codex Almimentarius Commission of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) will meet on May 8.

The 130-member commission, which is based in Rome and widely regarded as the world's "food police," has the authority to regulate food labeling and safety.

Activists fear that during the Codex meeting, the U.S. will try to reverse the new European Parliament labeling position and attempt to impose its "no labeling" policy on rBGH-treated milk and other environmentally questionable products.

Activists say the official U.S. position on "no labeling" of genetically engineered food results from industry pressure. "We know the FDA is under corporate control. But they will have to listen to the consumers," says Colby.

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Albion Monitor March 30, 1996 (

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