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After 20 years of B.S. from the FDA, a court in Ohio this week FINALLY recognized the same science that experts have been touting all along. The court case was about rbGH - Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone - an artificial hormone first made and sold by Monsanto, and now by Elanco, a division of Eli Lilly.

From the beginning, the FDA has said there is "no compositional difference" between milk from cows shot up with rbGH and milk from untreated cows. (For simplicity's sake, I am going to refer to these as rbGH milk and rbGH-free milk.) Scientists said otherwise. And Monsanto, for its part, gave the FDA only SOME of the data, in such a way that made rbGH look better... and tried to intimidate scientists and academic journals to keep them quiet.

But the Ohio court has now recognized the 20 year old science proving:

  1. rbGH milk has more pus in it, making it sour quicker.
  1. rbGH milk is less nutritious than rbGH-free milk.
  1. rbGH milk has more IGF-1 (a hormone linked to some cancers) in it.

Details below, and even more details here

My pals back in Wisconsin have literally been fighting rbGH for two decades now. They wanted to keep it from becoming legal, and when it was made legal, they wanted it labeled. Over and over, the lost. Then they - and dairy farmers around the U.S. - had to fight just for the right to label rbGH-free milk as "rbGH-free."

The pro-rbGH side has had all kinds of arguments. They said there was no rbGH ever put in the milk (because you put the hormones in the cow, not in the milk). They said the milk was the same. They said that because the milk is the same, it's misleading to "confuse" consumers with labels like "rbGH-free" and make them spend more money on a product identical to rbGH milk.

There were a few major decisions at the federal level that really crippled the anti-rbGH side in the fight. One was the FDA decision that there was "no compositional difference" in rbGH milk compared to rbGH-free milk. And then there was the fact that labeling laws got left to the states to decide. That meant that if ONE state banned "rbGH-free" labels, it would affect many others, because any company that sold to more than one state (or sold products nationally) wouldn't want to make different types of packaging to comply with different state laws.

Around 2007, Monsanto & co got very aggressive in trying to ban rbGH-free labeling in several states. They helped form a front group of rbGH-loving dairy farmers (called AFACT) and set about trying to convince the governments of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and elsewhere to ban "rbGH-free" claims.

I blogged about it on dKos at the time and the response was overwhelming. People were pissed. Some people said that they didn't even mind drinking milk from cows treated with rbGH, but they were appalled at the notion that the "rbGH-free" labels would be banned, taking that choice out of their hands. All in all, the pro-rbGH side lost in every state they attempted this in....

Except Ohio.

Ohio was the holdout. Ultimately, the case went to the courts in Ohio. I've not followed it closely but I think the pro-rbGH side won the first round and then, this week, lost when the decision was overturned in an appeal.

The less significant news of the week is that dairy products sold in Ohio may still be labeled as "rbGH-free" so long as they also include an FDA disclaimer that the FDA found no significant difference between milk from cows treated with rBGH and milk from untreated cows.

The BIG BIG BIG news is that the court FINALLY recognized the science that the FDA has ignored for at least 17 years if not more. Here's the explanation of why rbGH milk is different and - I think it's fair to say - inferior.

  1. First, when a cow is injected with rbGH, she also produces more of a second hormone called IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1). Then the levels of IGF-1 in the milk increase too. rBGH is no big deal to humans because our bodies do not recognize it as a human hormone. IGF-1 is the same in cows and humans, and it's linked to some cancers.
  1. Cows who are treated with rbGH are more susceptible to mastitis, resulting in more "somatic cells" (i.e. pus) in the milk. This makes the milk sour quicker.
  1. Cows generally undergo a "negative energy balance" period when the first start lactating and their production is at its highest. During this time, the cow cannot eat enough to compensate for the milk she's producing, and as a result, the milk is of lower nutritional quality (more fat, less protein). Cows treated with rbGH undergo a SECOND and UNNATURAL negative energy balance period during which their milk is also lower in nutritional quality (same thing - more fat, less protein).

You can read my sources for all of this and the more detailed scientific language describing it here. What's significant is that the source I quote was presented to the FDA in 1993. rbGH became legal in 1994. So the FDA has had this information THE WHOLE TIME.

Also significant is the story of how Monsanto hid this. They first did a study and sent all of the data to researchers in the U.K. Later, they decided to manipulate the data in a way that would hide the true results and make their product look better. The UK researchers responded by writing up a report and getting accepted in an academic journal. Monsanto pressured the journal into not printing the report. This happened three times with three different journals.

At that point the researchers sent their data and interpretation to Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers' Union (publisher of Consumer Reports). He testified with this data at the FDA and in Canada. Monsanto openly accused the researchers who gave him the data of plagiarism. The researchers responded with a commentary printed in Nature titled "Plagiarism or protecting public health?."

This court case was a victory for consumers, for dairy farmers, for science, and for public health. Now that the FDA's claim of "no compositional difference" has been busted wide open, I wonder what's going to happen next?

Originally posted to Jill Richardson on Sat Oct 02, 2010 at 02:29 PM PDT.

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