Rave On: BGH Testing - You're It



In the Department of unintentional self-satire this month, attention turns to the FDA. The "Food and Drug Administration" is the branch of government that is supposed to protect us from dangerous or unproved drugs and the medical quackery that is used to peddle them. These are the people who approved Thalidomide(tm) and Halcyon(tm), and allowed a dye called "red #1," a known carcinogen in lab animals, to continue to be used in Maraschino cherries on the grounds that no one eats more than one or two at a sitting. Tell that to your little sister with the sweet tooth!

The FDA's latest brilliant strategy for protecting our health is to approve for use a synthetic hormone that when fed to cows increases their milk production by 20%. This hormone was approved after fewer than five years of testing, with no long term studies of its effect either on the animals themselves or on human beings who consume milk from these animals. The American public over then next fifteen or twenty years will provide information for the field studies. Of course, the government will be rigorous in pursuing such studies as are done (as they were in the case of tobacco, Di-ethyl sybesterol [DES], asbestos, silicone breast implants, and so many other products with potentially lethal health consequences).

They have tested the milk produced by cows fed the hormone (only for a relatively short term, not throughout their active milk producing lives) and judged that - according to their tests - it is indistinguishable from milk produced by cows not fed the hormone. On the basis of these tests they have approved the hormone for general use on the dairy herds of America.

European countries have by and large rejected the use of such artificial stimulants. Like the US, they already produce more milk and milk products than they can consume, and have to artificially support the price of milk with government subsidies in order to prevent the over-supply from collapsing the price and leading to the failure of numerous small farms. Here at home the Department of Agriculture recently sponsored a dairy herd buy-out, where the government - you the taxpayer - paid dairy farmers to sell their herds for slaughter to reduce the number of dairy farms and the consequent milk over-production.

So why do we need a drug to increased milk production? Gee, I wonder who stands to make money out of this. Is it the small family dairy farm, independent and individualistic? I don't think so. The cost of the drug, and the need for additional milking (after all, cows udders have a limited capacity, and must be emptied when full to avoid discomfort to the cows and serious medical problems) and the lack of demand for the additional milk will not benefit these farmers and the small co-ops that represent them. In fact, they are more likely than ever to be run out of business by the industrialized factory farms where economies of scale make a much greater difference in profitability.

The cows are unlikely to benefit. If our experience of natural hormone over-production is any indication, the drug is likely at very least to put additional stress on their whole physical system. What the long term effects of this stress will be the FDA seems to neither know nor care. Of course, the actual quality of the lives of the cows is of no interest to the FDA. If the widespread use of this product makes their lives shorter and more unpleasant, why should the FDA care? That's not their department. "Milk from contented cows" was once an American ideal. Now, however it's the old bottom line that matters and to hell with the cows contentment. If they're not contented we'll come up with a cow version of Prozac(tm) or Halcyon(tm), and that'll make 'em happy! Better living through chemistry!

And speaking of chemistry, here is where there is profit to be made. The drug companies that hold the patents on this formula will reap a bonanza. If some factory farms start using it, others will have to use it in order to compete. Small farmers will at least be tempted to try it when they get desperate enough to try and save their way of life. With a proprietary patent, the drug companies can charge whatever they like. Regardless of the actual cost of manufacture, they can add whatever inflated figure for "research and development" they can get their friends at the FDA to accept, and add that into the retail price.

In the end, the cost of milk production will probably go up slightly, but not enough to justify the prices already guaranteed by government subsidies. In addition, as the small farms and co-ops are driven out of business, milk production will be controlled by an ever-diminishing number of corporate farmers, and with diminished competition prices can be more easily manipulated. So, the benefits will go to factory farms, in the form of greater control of the market through decreased competition and increased market share. The benefits will go to drug companies, in the form of "earnings" from the sale of the hormone.

To add insult to injury, the FDA in a triumph of bureaucratic double-speak originally tried to forbid farmers and co-ops who want to resist using the hormone to give you the choice of buying milk from untreated cows. The FDA initially ruled that it is illegal to label milk that comes from untreated cows. Their reason is that such labeling would constitute "false or misleading advertising" (even if demonstrably true). Why? Because such labeling "falsely implies" that there is a difference that the FDA says does not exist. In their opinion the milk from treated cows is identical to that given by untreated cows. Then they permitted labeling, but insisted that labels also carry a disclaimer stating that milk from untreated cows was no different that that from treated cows. Now they are pushing again (at whose insistence?) to ban labeling altogether.

They have derided any attempts to question their research as "alarmist." Why would people who have experienced the FDA's authoritative dismissal of the health risks of tobacco and the other products noted above feel they have cause for alarm?

Write to your elected representatives, to your state health departments and the USDA, to the FDA itself, to everyone you can think of, and let them know what you think of this nonsense. Public pressure may be able to keep this insane exploitation of cows and consumers from becoming an irreversible reality. And unless you have an overwhelming desire to be a Guinea Pig, think before you drink!

In the immortal words of Denis Miller, "But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."

Am I? Why? What's yours?