Support Tillamook in their fight against Monsanto - an rBGH primer

As of April 1, 2005, all dairies supplying milk to Tillamook, which is a co-op of dairy farmers, were to certify that their milk was rBGH-free. When word leaked to Monsanto, however, they stepped in to try to stop the change. According to Cheese Market News, Monsanto representatives met with Tillamook executives to ask them to reconsider, and in November, sent a letter directly to Tillamook co-op members questioning the policy. The Monsanto letter said, in part, "Monsanto will work to ensure that you have a choice about how to run your dairy." Tillamook is not happy with Monsanto, and said in a statement that the letter's "intrusion into the co-op's internal affairs pales in comparison to Monsanto's unprecedented effort in the past two weeks to divide Tillamook's dairy farmers over the issue." Washington D.C. attorney James Dabney (from the pro-Monsanto lawfirm King & Spaulding) recently flew to Oregon to meet with more than a dozen Tillamook co-op members, who then prepared an amendment to Tillamook's bylaws stating that, "The board shall not in any way restrict the right of any member to use any pharmaceutical product approved by the U.S. FDA for use in dairy cattle." (Monsanto's Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Garrett denies Monsanto had a hand in the petition, but dairy farmers say otherwise.) The petition notes that the signed members won't necessarily vote in favor of the amendment, but believe it should be brought before the membership for a vote. THIS VOTE WILL BE HAPPENING THIS MONDAY, FEB. 28, and Tillamook needs your calls and emails letting them know how important it is to stay rBGH-free. Be respectful and talk straight from the heart. You can contact them at:

Call Tillamook and ask them to hold the line against Monsanto

E-mail: info@tillamookcheese.com
Phone: 503-842-4481
Fax: 503-842-6039

Monsanto will stop at nothing to assure that their growth hormone will continue to be used despite the risks associated with it, and the ever-increasing demand for organic and non-rBGH milk products. You might remember that FOX news reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson were fired by their Florida station for refusing to back down on their story about rBGH after Monsanto sent a letter threatening legal action. They were profiled in The Corporation and are now challenging the FCC renewal of that TV station, WTVT in Tampa. You might also remember the $5.5 million that Monsanto and other agribusiness companies put into Oregon to defeat Measure 27 in 2002.

Although Tillamook voted last May, they wanted to keep it under wraps, and weren't planning to label their products rBGH-free, perhaps partly because of Monsanto's lawsuit against Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Maine. In 2003, Monsanto sued Oakhurst when they became rBGH-free and started labeling their products as such: "Our Farmer's Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormone." Monsanto argued that the label was misleading since the FDA has found that there is no significant difference between milk with and without the hormone. The company settled out of court with Monsanto and now labels their products, "Our Farmer's Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormone Used. FDA States: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone."

Although the FDA has indeed found "no significant difference," studies have found that rBGH (marketed by Monsanto as Posilac) does have some very scary side effects for people and the cows that are injected with it. Perhaps the scariest prospect is that rBGH has been found (even by Monsanto) to increase the levels IGF-1, a naturally occurring hormone-protein found in both milk and humans. Studies have found that increased levels IGF-1 are associated with several different types of cancers in humans, and many people are worried about the correlation between consuming increased levels of this hormone in milk, and increased levels of the hormone in humans. Moreover, cows injected with rBGH 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 tend to die sooner than cows not treated with the hormone.

rBGH is not used in most other industrialized countries, including the European Union, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. So, how did it get approved in the U.S.? The short answer is that there is a quite cozy revolving door relationship between the government and corporations. While this revolving door is prevalent in all facets of government, when it comes to government agencies that are supposed to protect our health, this revolving door can have serious consequences for us. A case in point is Michael Taylor - a former legal advisor to the FDA's Bureau of Medical Devices and Bureau of Foods, and later an executive assistant to the FDA Commissioner - who then became a partner in the firm of King & Spaulding where his clients included Monsanto. He then went back into government as the Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the FDA, then back to King & Spaulding, and is now head of the Washington, D.C. office of Monsanto ... whew! Got all that? (He, along with two others, were actually investigated by the GAO for their role in the approval of Posilac, although apparently no wrongdoing was found.)

When it comes to rBGH, the FDA did none of their own studies (as per usual), but, according to one FDA official, simply relied on a summary of a rat-feeding study that Monsanto conducted, and that the Canadian government later found to be seriously misrepresented. According to the Organic Consumers Association: "The Canadian report says that 20% to 30% of the rats fed rBGH in high doses developed primary antibody responses to rBGH, indicating that rBGH was absorbed into their blood. .... Furthermore, cysts reportedly developed on the thyroids of the male rats and some increased infiltration of the prostate gland occurred. Despite these results, FDA reported in SCIENCE that there were 'no... clinical findings' in the Monsanto rat study." In addition, FDA scientists who have spoken out against rBGH have faced serious reprimands from the agency. According to Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, "FDA Veterinarian Richard Burroughs said that agency officials 'suppressed and manipulated data to cover up their own ignorance and incompetence.' He also described how industry researchers would often drop sick cows from studies, to make the drug appear safer. Burroughs had ordered more tests than the industry wanted and was told by superiors he was slowing down the approval. He was fired and his tests canceled. The remaining whistle-blowers in the FDA had to write an anonymous letter to Congress, complaining of fraud and conflict of interest in the agency."

Here in Oregon, groups like NW Resistance Against Genetic Engineering and Physicians for Social Responsibility are working to stop Genetic Engineering in our state and around the country. It is perhaps the biggest threat to organic food and sustainable agriculture that we know of, and is an uphill battle all the way. If what Monsanto is doing to the Tillamook County Creamery Association pisses you off, please consider getting involved to stop this from happening in the future. With your help, we can stop Monsanto and reclaim our food!

To learn more about genetic engineering, NW RAGE invites you to hear author and activist Brian Tokar on Monday, Feb. 28 at the Food For Thought Caf? at PSU at 7 p.m. Brian will be discussing genetic engineering and Vermont's Town to Town Campaign urging a "Time Out on GMOs." Over the last four years, 79 towns have agreed that regulations are needed to protect Vermont farmers and food systems from genetic engineering. Come hear what is making this campaign a success and how we can help stop genetic engineering in Oregon.

Hear Brian Tokar in Portland this Monday

Who: Brian Tokar to speak on GMO activism and successes in the Northeastern United States.
When: Monday February 28th - 7:00pm
Where: The Food for Thought Cafe - Portland State University, basement of the Smith Center, Room 026
Why: Vermont has been very successful in fighting GMO in their communities. Come learn what they did, how they do it, and how we can do the same.
Cost: Free for students - $5 donation request for others, no one turned away.

Brian has been an activist since the 1970s in the peace, anti-nuclear, environmental, and Green politics movements and is currently a faculty member at Goddard College and the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont. He is the author of The Green Alternative: Creating an Ecological Future and Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash, and was the recipient of a 1999 Project Censored award for his investigative history of the Monsanto company (The Ecologist, Sept./Oct. 1998). Brian's articles on environmental politics and emerging ecological movements appear frequently in Z Magazine, The Ecologist, Food & Water Journal, Synthesis/Regeneration, Toward Freedom, and numerous other publications.

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Hormone fuels a fight in Tillamook

Sunday, February 27, 2005
ALEX PULASKI

C ow No. 7775 lives a life of numerical efficiency.

A machine milks her three times a day. At her peak, she has given 156.4 pounds of milk daily. A transponder strapped to her right rear leg helps a computer track the precise sum of steps she takes per day.

Last year, two particular numbers bore down on her. After three attempts at artificial insemination failed over the course of 105 days, it became clear that something was amiss with the big black Holstein with the white forehead, legs and belly. If she did not get pregnant, her milk would begin to dry up.

The solution: inject her with Posilac, a genetically engineered growth hormone.

Simply put, Posilac stimulates cows to give more milk. Its manufacturer, Monsanto Co., suggests that dairies can increase milk yields by 10 percent to 15 percent by injecting cows every 14 days.

For two years, all the cows at Lagler Dairy in Brush Prairie, Wash., were injected with Posilac every two weeks. Milk production increased about 7 percent, but the added feed and injections were expensive. For the past three years, Dennis Lagler, owner of the Clark County dairy, has limited the hormone's use to specific cows such as No. 7775.

By Monday, though, Posilac may be finished at Lagler Dairy. Lagler and 146 other dairy owners connected by one of Oregon's oldest and most revered brands, the Tillamook County Creamery Association, are voting on what amounts to a referendum on Posilac's use.

The creamery's management and board of directors think Tillamook needs to wean itself from Posilac to satisfy consumers who worry about the effects of growth hormones on humans and cattle. Balancing consumer skittishness about biotechnology's health risks against the potential for greater farm production, the board has voted to end the hormone's use by Tillamook members.

Lagler, despite his reliance on Posilac, agrees with ending its use. His success depends on the value of the Tillamook brand, he says, and Tillamook's success is driven by consumers.

But Tillamook's board underestimated how much some member dairies were wed to Posilac. Those dairies have pushed back by calling for Monday's vote.

Tillamook's management thinks those dairies are being egged on by Monsanto, a corporation with $5.5 billion in annual sales and a history of filing lawsuits and shoveling money to squash threats against its use of biotechnology.

"We didn't want to be a target of Monsanto," said Jim McMullen, Tillamook's president and chief executive officer. "We have a great brand, and we're just trying to protect our reputation."

Monsanto, like the handful of dairy owners allied with the company who are willing to speak openly, says the cooperative is engaged in a struggle over individual rights within the cooperative.

"This is about the members of the co-op having a voice and their voice is not being heard," said dairy owner Kristina Radelfinger of Tillamook. She refused to say more.

Board votes for phase-out

Tillamook's nine-member board voted last May to phase out use of the hormone, requiring members to pledge to stop using Posilac by April 1, 2005.

McMullen said the decision was driven by consumer inquiries.

In 2002, he said, 3 percent of phone calls and e-mails received by the association were related to bovine growth hormones. That number rose to 4 percent the next year and hit 8 percent by 2004.

"Our research shows this is a top-of-the-mind issue for consumers," McMullen said.

For example, Dwight Porter, 37, a freelance photographer from Portland, said he stopped buying the Tillamook brand in December 2003. Porter, concerned that the federal government's review of Posilac had not adequately weighed human health risks, said he called to ask the cooperative about its growth-hormone policy.

In response, Tillamook sent him a form letter recounting the cooperative's dedication to quality and wholesomeness. The letter stated that it is impossible to test for the genetically modified hormone because it is indistinguishable from that naturally found in cows.

Tillamook heard few protests from dairy owners shortly after the May 2004 decision to phase out Posilac's use, McMullen said.

In November, the president of Monsanto's dairy arm wrote its Tillamook farm customers to say that restricting the hormone's use "seems ill-advised" because it would cut into dairies' choices and potentially their profits.

"I want you to know that Monsanto will work to ensure that you have a choice about how to run your dairy," Consuelo E. Madere wrote. "In our efforts to do this, it may be necessary for us to call on you to seek your advice."

In January, more than 80 dairy owners signed a petition asking the board to reconsider.

But after an additional discussion, the board reaffirmed its decision on Jan. 31. Steve Neahring, a board member and Nehalem dairyman, said the cooperative probably should have communicated better with members. Still, he said, the decision was sound.

"Sometimes things can get debated in a boardroom for a year or two, and you forget that all the membership wasn't along for the whole debate," he said. "But the most valuable asset the creamery owns is that brand."

The cooperative, founded in 1909, sells more than 100 million pounds of cheese a year nationally as well as milk and other dairy products. Its dairy sales in 2003 were $262 million.

Attorney delivers letter

Tillamook is no stranger to lawyers, having spent years warding off businesses it suspected were infringing on use of its name.

But McMullen, who thought the board's January affirmation had ended the Posilac fight, was surprised to discover Feb. 8 that a Washington, D.C., attorney had hand-delivered a two-page letter to Tillamook's corporate office.

The second page consisted of signatures from 16 members of the Tillamook cooperative. The first requested a full meeting of the members to amend the association's bylaws by adding this sentence:

" . . . the Board shall not in any way restrict the right of any member to use any pharmaceutical product approved by the United States Food & Drug Administration for use in dairy cattle."

The FDA approved Posilac's use in 1994 in one of the most oft-criticized decisions in its history because agency employees with former ties to Monsanto were involved. A later inquiry by what is now the Government Accountability Office then cleared them of violating conflict-of-interest law.

One former Monsanto researcher, for example, was asked to reach conclusions about whether artificial growth hormones could be detected in milk, even though she had done precisely the same work at Monsanto.

Another who came under the accountability office's scrutiny was Michael R. Taylor, who wrote the agency's guidelines on why milk produced by using growth hormones should not be labeled as such. Taylor has been a Monsanto vice president and a partner in King & Spalding, a firm that represents Monsanto.

The attorney who dropped off the letter seeking the Tillamook bylaw vote, James D. Miller, is also from the King & Spalding law firm. Miller did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for Monsanto, Jennifer Garrett, said Miller had worked for Monsanto on occasion but that "Monsanto is not paying him for his work in this Tillamook issue." Otherwise, Garrett said, Monsanto has not played a direct role in staging Monday's vote.

Monsanto already has played an influential role in shaping food policy in Oregon and the dairy industry elsewhere.

In November 2002, Oregon voters defeated a measure requiring labeling of genetically modified food, after Monsanto contributed more than one-fourth of the $5.5 million that helped defeat it.

The company also successfully sued a Maine dairy whose labels had proclaimed that it used no artificial growth hormones. In a 2003 settlement, the dairy had to add wording that the FDA had found no significant differences between milk from cows treated with artificial hormones and milk produced without them.

Tillamook's McMullen said the company intends to market its milk as free of artificial growth hormones but does not aim to change its labeling.

The cooperative's plans, however, hinge on how members vote Monday.

Posilac use tracked

Although Monsanto would not release market figures, a 2002 federal survey of dairies concluded that Posilac was being used on 22.3 percent of cows in 21 states. When the same study asked dairy owners why they were not using the hormone, cost and animal health were the most common reasons.

A panel convened by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association in 1998 concluded that artificial hormones raised milk yield, but that cows developed udder infections at a 25 percent higher rate and ran a 50 percent higher risk of lameness in the feet and legs.

"Treated cows were at higher risk of being culled," the report noted.

Citing animal health concerns, the Canadian government in 1999 rejected Monsanto's attempts to win regulatory approval for Posilac.

Other studies indicate that the hormones don't measurably affect infection or cull rates of cows.

The anecdotal evidence is mixed as well. Dick Heathershaw, a Cloverdale dairyman, said cows treated with Posilac seemed to suffer more foot and leg problems as well as udder infections requiring treatment with antibiotics.

But Lagler said he saw no measurable difference in animal health when he treated his entire herd with Posilac.

As in the debate over food that is directly genetically modified, opponents have gathered inconclusive evidence about increased risks for cancer in humans and hormonal development in children.

Garrett of Monsanto replies: "Milk is milk. Our product works exactly the same as the (hormone) that the cow has on her own."

Unproductive cows culled

Dairies don't specialize in love stories or happy endings.

Cow No. 7775 was born Sept. 8, 1999, the product of artificial insemination. A number identifies her mother. Inside a computer, her father exists as a sequence of numbers and letters.

Without Posilac, her milk would have dried up and she would likely have gone where most dairy cows end up: to auction, the first stop on her way to a fast-food restaurant.

After 20 attempts while the cow continued to produce milk, No. 7775 finally became pregnant on Nov. 12 last year.

It's such cases, says dairywoman Carol Ann Leuthold of Tillamook, that should allow the continued use of Posilac. Her husband, David, signed the petition requesting Monday's vote because they want choices.

"We want the freedom to dairy the way we feel is best," she said.

"Tree-huggers would just as soon we didn't milk cows because they feel that is, shall we say, against nature. You don't wear pelts, you don't wear leather, you don't eat meat.

"I have a problem with quote-unquote tree huggers. We love our cows. We take care of our cows."

Alex Pulaski: 503-221-8516; alexpulaski@news.oregonian.com