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From Conscious Choice 2001

Exposing the Dangers of Biotech Foods

Dr. Samuel Epstein has won countless awards, including the 1998 Right Livelihood Award, the "alternative" Nobel Prize. He's written a definitive text, The Politics of Cancer, and the updated The Politics of Cancer Revisited. Dr. Epstein is a professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago and is the world's leading credible expert on the environmental and occupational causes of cancer.

Industry hasn't published a single article in a peer reviewed journal on the safety of genetically engineered foods. In any discussion or debate with them, they will cite to you a variety of authorities, a variety of institutions who supposedly lend powerful support to the safety of genetically engineered foods. The industry says, "Trust us. Would we do such a thing to U.S. agriculture? Would we do such a thing to world food supply if we weren't absolutely sure that what we're doing is for the benefit of humankind, quite apart from the profit of our shareholders?"

In the spring of '89, I started getting some calls from farmers in this country and elsewhere who were asking, "What do you know about rBGH? We're giving the stuff to our cows and the cows are getting sick, and if the cows are getting sick, surely this must do something to the milk."

That was my wake-up call. I started a fairly thorough search of the medical literature, the public health literature, and could find nothing whatsoever on rBGH. I then came across two supplements to the Journal of Dairy Research, the 1987 and the 1988 supplements, which were devoted exclusively to reports on rBGH. And there must have been about 300 articles on rBGH fairly short articles, each with an abstract and conclusions, but nothing in the medical, public health, or scientific literature.

I started going through the listing of authors in the 300 or so articles in these two supplements. The first thing I noticed was that they all fell into two categories. Either they were by Monsanto scientists and the other companies involved, including Eli Lilly, or from land grant colleges. Over the decades, land grant colleges have become so closely allied with the agrochemical industry that they are literally extensions of agrochemical interests, very largely funded by Monsanto and by other bio-tech companies.

What did I find in these 300 or so articles? When you read scientific material carefully, you find very often that there's a peculiar disconnect between the abstract at the beginning of the article and the actual data in the article.

The abstracts, universally and uniformly said, "We did milk production trials and most of these milk production trials were based on about five to ten cows. We gave them the hormone. There were no adverse effects reported, and we got an increase in milk production. So everything is fine."

I went through the data with a fine-toothed comb, however, and came upon some very interesting findings. The first was that there was a high incidence of mastitis, inflammation of the udder; either clinical mastitis, in which you actually found pus in the milk, or sub-clinical mastitis, in which you have an inflammation of the breast or udder of the cow and pus is found microscopically.

The second was a high incidence of reproductive problems of a wide range: decreased birth weight, miscarriages, etc. And then a few references to a growth factor known as IGF-1, which is short for Insulin-like Growth Factor 1.

In bloodstreams of all mammals, there's a growth factor known as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 secreted by the liver in response to growth hormone. Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland, and stimulates the liver to produce IGF-1, which stimulates cell growth, proliferation, and maturity.

Elevations of IGF-1 were mentioned and then brushed aside as being within normal limits. They were normal in the milk very shortly after birth. But when you looked at normal milk, the elevation was quite striking.

When you give a cow the genetically engineered growth hormone, suddenly there's a massive explosion and concentration of IGF-1 inside the udder the breast and epithelial cells. So I suggested that there could well be cause for concern as to the potential of IGF-1 in relation to breast cancer.

In October of 1989, I came into my office one morning and found a vast box with no return address. It was a whole stack of confidential Monsanto files, which some idealistic criminal had either stolen from Monsanto or copied from FDA files.

I went through the whole big stack of stuff. It took me a week. There was documentation that showed clearly and unequivocally that contrary to FDA and Monsanto assurances, cows injected with rBGH developed a very wide range of diseases. As an ex-pathologist, let me just use the language of pathology: disseminated granulomatis infiltration. In other words, all over the body, the heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, there were small areas of chronic inflammation. In addition to that, there was a markedly elevated incidence of mastitis and a markedly elevated incidence of reproductive problems.

Vast amounts of this milk were being sold. FDA and Monsanto were assuring the public that it was totally harmless, no different from normal milk. But the FDA had a whole file of every single study that Monsanto had done that proved otherwise. The FDA did admit that the rBGH hormone was a little different from the natural hormone, just a 2 or 3 percent difference in molecular structure.

But a 2 or 3 percent difference in the overall chromosomal can be very, very significant. Just one amino acid difference can give you, say, the difference between, in a whole long DNA chain, somebody who gets sickle cell anemia and dies from it, and someone who doesn't. So this isn't entirely reassuring.

And then there are quantitative abnormalities in rBGH milk. First of all, there's a reduction in casein levels, which could hurt the cheese industry. There's an increased concentration of long-chain fatty acids, which of course would be a great boon to cardiovascular surgeons, but not to very many other people. There's an increased thyroid hormone enzyme, and finally the increased levels of IGF-1 I mentioned earlier.

Clearly, their claims about the equivalence of rBGH milk with normal milk, and the product's safety are wrong, and Monsanto and the FDA's behavior in this affair is reprehensible, and unfortunately, far from an isolated episode.


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