RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #593
---April 9, 1998---
MILK, rBGH, AND CANCER
MILK, RBGH AND CANCER
Two veteran news reporters for Fox TV in Tampa, Florida have been
fired for refusing to water down an investigative report on
Monsanto's controversial milk hormone, rBGH (recombinant bovine
growth hormone). Monsanto's rBGH is a genetically-engineered
hormone sold to dairy farmers, who inject it into their cows
every two weeks to increase milk production. In recent years,
evidence has accumulated indicating that rBGH may promote cancer
in humans who drink milk from rBGH-treated cows. It is the link
between rBGH and cancer that Fox TV tried hardest to remove from
In the fall of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and
Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on rBGH
in Florida milk. After more than a year's work on the rBGH
series, and three days before the series was scheduled to air
starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first
of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that
Monsanto would suffer "enormous damage" if the series ran. WTVT
had been advertising the series aggressively, but canceled it at
the last moment. Monsanto's second letter warned of "dire
consequences" for Fox if the series aired as it stood. (How
Monsanto knew what the series contained remains a mystery.)
According to documents filed in Florida's Circuit Court (13th
Circuit), Fox lawyers then tried to water down the series,
offering to pay the two reporters if they would leave the station
and keep mum about what Fox had done to their work. The
reporters refused Fox's offer, and on April 2, 1998, filed their
own lawsuit against WTVT.
Steve Wilson has 26 years' experience as a working journalist and
has won four Emmy awards for his investigative reporting. His
wife, Jane Akre, has been a reporter and news anchor for 20
years, and has won a prestigious Associated Press award for
The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that WTVT violated its license
from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by demanding
that the reporters include known falsehoods in their rBGH series.
The reporters also charge that WTVT violated Florida's "whistle
blower" law. Many of the legal documents in the lawsuit
--including Monsanto's threatening letters --have been posted on
the world wide web at http://www.foxbghsuit.com for all to see.
No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can
intimidate TV stations into re-writing the news, but this case
offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation
tactics and their effects inside a news organization. It is not
It has been well-documented by Monsanto and by others that
rBGH-treated cows undergo several changes: their lives are
shortened, they are more likely to develop mastitis, an infection
of the udder (which then requires use of antibiotics, which end
up in the milk along with increased pus), and they produce milk
containing elevated levels of another hormone called IGF-1. It
is IGF-1 that is associated with increased likelihood of human
cancers. (See REHW #381, #382, #383, #384, #483, but
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rBGH for use
in cows in 1993, but the approval process was controversial
because former Monsanto employees went to work for the FDA,
oversaw the approval process, then went back to work for
Monsanto. (See REHW #381.)
Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while
falsely claiming safety. The entire planet is now contaminated
with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated
biphenyls), thanks to Monsanto's poor judgment and refusal to be
guided by early scientific evidence indicating harm. (See REHW
#327, #328.) The 2,4,5-T in Agent Orange --the herbicide that has
brought so much grief to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans
--is another example of Monsanto's poor judgment and failure to
heed scientific evidence to prevent harm. Critics says rBGH is
just one more example of Monsanto's monumentally poor judgment.
When Wilson and Akre asked Monsanto officials to respond to these
allegations of past poor judgment, Monsanto had no comment.
The Wilson/Akre rBGH series (a script of which is available on
the web site www.foxbghsuit.com) makes the following points:
** rBGH was never properly tested before FDA allowed it on the
market. A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two
years of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested
for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was
submitted to FDA but was never published. FDA has refused to
allow anyone outside FDA to review the raw data from this study,
saying it would "irreparably harm" Monsanto. Therefore the
linchpin study of cancer and rBGH has never been subjected to
open scientific peer review.
** Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH
treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight --who lost 75% of his herd
--says on camera that Monsanto and Monsanto-funded researchers at
University of Florida withheld from him the information that
other dairy herds were suffering similar problems. He says
Monsanto and the university researchers told him only that he
must be doing something wrong.
** The law required Monsanto to notify the FDA if they received
complaints by dairy farmers such as Charles Knight. But four
months after Knight complained to Monsanto, FDA had heard nothing
from Monsanto. Monsanto's explanation? Despite a series of
visits to Knight's farm, and many phone conversations, Monsanto
officials say it took them four months to figure out that Knight
was complaining about rBGH.
** Monsanto claims on camera that every truckload of milk is
tested for excessive antibiotics --but Florida dairy officials
and scientists on camera say this is simply not true.
** Monsanto says on camera that Canada's ban on rBGH has nothing
to do with human health concerns --but Canadian government
officials speaking on camera say just the opposite.
** Canadian government officials, speaking on camera, say they
believe Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2
million to gain approval for rBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials
say the Canadians misunderstood their offer of "research" funds.
** Monsanto officials claim on camera that "the milk has not
changed" because of rBGH treatment of cows. As noted earlier,
there is abundant evidence --some of it from Monsanto's own
studies --that this is definitely not true.
** On camera, a Monsanto official claims that Monsanto has not
opposed dairy co-ops labeling their milk as "rBGH-free." But
this is definitely not true. Monsanto brought two lawsuits
against dairies that labeled their milk "rBGH-free." Faced with
the Monsanto legal juggernaut, the dairies folded and Monsanto
then sent letters around to other dairy organizations announcing
the outcome of the two lawsuits --in all likelihood, for purposes
of intimidation. (Conveniently, the FDA regulations that
discourage labeling of milk as "rBGH-free" were written by
Michael Taylor, an attorney who worked for Monsanto both before
and after his tenure as an FDA official. See REHW #381.)
At the web site www.foxbghsuit.com, you will find the version of
the Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox's
attorneys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most
importantly, nearly all of the references to cancer have been
removed from the script. Instead of cancer we now have "human
health effects" --whatever those may be.
The Wilson/Akre lawsuit comes at an especially good time to
publicize the relationship between rBGH and human cancer because
new evidence has come to light.
When a cow is injected with rBGH, its milk production is
stimulated, but not directly. The presence of rBGH in the cow's
blood stimulates production of another hormone, called
Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1, or IGF-1 for short. It is IGF-1
that stimulates milk production.
IGF-1 is a naturally-occurring hormone-protein in both cows and
humans. The IGF-1 in cows is chemically identical to the
IGF-1 in humans. The use of rBGH increases the levels of
IGF-1 in the cow's milk, though the amount of the increase is
disputed. Furthermore, IGF-1 in milk is not destroyed by
pasteurization. Because IGF-1 is active in humans --causing
cells to divide --any increase in IGF-1 in milk raises obvious
questions: will it cause inappropriate cell division and growth,
leading to growth of tumors?
The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical
Association formally expressed concern about IGF-1 related to
rBGH in 1991, saying, "Further studies will be required to
determine whether ingestion of higher than normal concentrations
of bovine insulin-like growth factor [IGF-1] is safe for
children, adolescents, and adults."
Monsanto's public position since 1994 has been that IGF-1 is not
elevated in the milk from rBGH-treated cows --despite its own
studies to the contrary. For example, writing in the British
journal, LANCET, in 1994, Monsanto researchers said "...IGF-1
concentration in milk of rBST-treated cows is unchanged," and
"...there is no evidence that hormonal content of milk from
rBST-treated cows is in any way different from cows not so
treated." [Monsanto calls rBGH rBST (recombinant bovine
somatotropin), thus avoiding use of the word 'hormone.'] However,
in a published letter, the British researcher T. B. Mepham
reminded Monsanto that in its 1993 application to the British
government for permission to sell rBGH in England, Monsanto
itself reported that "the IGF-1 level went up substantially
[about five times as much]." The U.S. FDA acknowledges that
IGF-1 is elevated in milk from rBGH-treated cows. Other
proponents of rBGH acknowledge that it at least doubles the
amount of IGF-1 hormone in the milk. The earliest report in
the literature found that IGF-1 was elevated in the milk of
rBGH-treated cows by a factor of 3.6.
Does IGF-1 promote cancer? In January of this year a Harvard
study of 15,000 white men published in SCIENCE reported that
those with elevated --but still normal --levels of IGF-1 in their
blood are 4 times as likely as average men to get prostate
cancer. The SCIENCE report ends saying, "Finally, our results
raise concern that administration of GH [growth hormone] or IGF-1
over long periods, as proposed for elderly men to delay the
effects of aging, may increase risk of prostate cancer." By
analogy, Monsanto's current efforts to increase the IGF-1 levels
in America's milk supply raise the question: if little boys drink
milk from rBGH-treated cows over long periods, will the elevated
levels of IGF-1 increase their prostate cancer rates? This is
not a question that should be answered by a wholesale experiment
on the American people --but that is precisely what Monsanto is
currently doing. It is difficult to put a happy face on this,
try as Fox might.
The Wilson/Akre story is one of talented, hard-working
journalists trying to tell an important public health story,
exposing lies and corruption by Monsanto, by the FDA, and now by
Fox, too. If nothing else, perhaps the courage of Steve Wilson
and Jane Akre will awaken many more of us to the potential
dangers of Monsanto's latest experiment on America's children.
(National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 June M. Chan and others, Plasma Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1
[IGF-1] and Prostate Cancer Risk: A Prospective Study," SCIENCE
Vol. 279 (January 23, 1998), pgs. 563-566.
 In his book MILK, THE DEADLY POISON [ISBN 0-9659196-0-9]
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Argus Press [Tel. (201) 871-5871], 1997),
pgs. 67-96, Robert Cohen describes his extensive efforts to
obtain a copy of this unpublished study from FDA. Cohen filed a
Freedom of Information Act request for the study and was refused;
he appealed within FDA and lost. He then filed a lawsuit in
federal court and, again, lost. FDA and the courts agree that
the public should never learn what happened to those rats fed
rBGH because it would "irreparably harm" Monsanto. Based on the
scant information that has been published about the weight gains
of the rats during the 90-day study, Cohen believes that many or
perhaps all of the rats got cancer. Weight-gain in the rats is
described cryptically in Tables 1 and 2 in Judith C. Juskevich
and C. Greg Guyer, "Bovine Growth Hormone: Human Food Safety
Evaluation," SCIENCE Vol. 249 (1990), pg. 875-884.
 T.B. Mepham, "Public health implications of bovine
somatotrophin [sic] use in dairying: discussion paper," JOURNAL
OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF MEDICINE Vol. 85 (December 1992), pgs.
 Judith C. Juskevich and C. Greg Guyer, "Bovine Growth
Hormone: Human Food Safety Evaluation." SCIENCE Vol. 249 (1990),
 Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association.
"Biotechnology and the American Agricultural Industry." JAMA
[JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION] Vol. 265, No. 11
(March 20, 1991), pg. 1433.
 Robert J. Collier and others, "[Untitled Letter to the
Editor]," LANCET Vol. 344 (September 17, 1994), pg. 816.
Monsanto Senior Vice President Virginia V. Weldon, MD, says,
"...the FDA has concluded from detailed studies that IGF-1 is not
increased." See Virginia V. Weldon, "Re 'A Needless New Risk of
Breast Cancer, Commentary, March 20'," LOS ANGELES TIMES April 4,
1994, pg. 6.
 T. B. Mepham and others, "Safety of milk from cows treated
with bovine somatotropin," LANCET Vol. 344 (November 19, 1994),
 William H. Daughaday and David M. Barbano, "Bovine
somatotropin supplementation of dairy cows: is the milk safe?"
JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Vol. 264, No. 8
(August 22, 1990), pgs. 1003-1005.
 C. G. Prosser and others, "Increased secretion of
insulin-like growth factor-1 into milk of cows treated with
recombinantly derived bovine growth hormone," JOURNAL OF DAIRY
SCIENCE Vol. 56 (1989), pgs. 17-26.
Descriptor terms: bovine growth hormone; bgh; rbgh; farming;
dairying; agriculture; monsanto; cancer; carcinogens; fda; food
and drug administration; reporters; firings; tv; fox tv; tampa,
fl; fl; steve wilson; jane akre; wtvt; whistle blowers; fcc;
journalistic ethics; mastitis; antibiotics; igf-1; corruption;
2,4,5-t; pcbs; agent orange; vietnam veterans; canada; ama;
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