In the future, if you want milk that is free of the synthetic growth hormones that are injected into cows, you may have to go to England.
The British Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Foods is poised to ban bovine somatotropin (BST), a growth hormone that is used experimentally in the United States and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration thinks is harmless.Across the Atlantic, experts are being more cautious. The European Community has already imposed a one-year moratorium on BST in its member countries while the effects of the hormone are studied.
Last month, the Veterinary Products Committee, which advises the British Agriculture Ministry, gave a thumbs down to an application from the American company Monsanto to sell BST in Britain.
The committee expects to take the same stand on an application from another U.S. manufacturer, Eli Lilly, later this month.
British Agriculture Minister John Gummer has not announced the final word on BST, but he told us, "It is my normal policy to accept the scientific advice of the advisory committee."
In the United States, the FDA has not yet issued a verdict on BST but has allowed it to be used experimentally. The milk from those cows is sold without any special labeling. BST is supposed to increase milk output from cows.
The FDA appears to be leaning in the direction of approving BST for general use in the United States. The current FDA opinion is that BST presents "no health risk to consumers."
That's the same thing the FDA said about 102 drugs that it approved between 1976 and 1985 - drugs that have since been found to have "serious post-approval risks" to consumers, according to a recent, widely publicized congressional investigation.
That means the FDA was right less than half the time during the period studied in that investigation. Of 198 drugs approved, 102 turned out to be not as safe as the FDA thought they were.
Consumers should be forgiven, then, if they are wary of the FDA's infatuation with BST. Last year we reported on confidential studies we obtained that were conducted by three American BST manufacturers - Monsanto, American Cyanamid and Elanco (a division of Eli Lilly). Those studies showed that BST may harm dairy cows and cause fluctuations in the quality of milk.
The studies showed that a small number of cows injected with BST lose weight, have lower fertility rates and suffer anemia or inflammation of the mammary glands.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington said the decision by the Veterinary Products Committee to reject BST in Britain was "a technical and scientific conclusion based on information submitted by Monsanto, not a political one."
Despite the findings in Britain, the FDA and the BST manufacturers continue to mount a public relations campaign claiming that BST is perfectly safe.
The FDA went so far as to fire its top veterinary researcher on the BST project, Dr. Richard Burroughs, after he examined the research data submitted by the industry and refused to rubber stamp it.