Monsanto has been in the news again, with a U.S. District Court ruling that the USDA has to at least go through the motions of regulating the company’s genetically engineered sugar beets. Monsanto, you may know, is not likely to win any contests for the most popular company. In fact, it has been called the most hated corporation in the world—which is saying something, given the competition from the likes of BP, Halliburton, and Goldman Sachs.
This has gotten me thinking about, of all things, ice cream, and of how Monsanto’s clammy paws can be found in some of the most widely sold ice cream brands in the country. These brands could break free from Monsanto’s clutches. So far they haven’t, but maybe this is about to change.
Ben & Jerry’s gets all their milk from dairies that have pledged not to inject their cows with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Why, then, can’t Häagen-Dazs, Breyers, and Baskin-Robbins do the same?
Starbucks now guarantees that all their milk, cream, and other dairy products are rBGH-free. So do Yoplait and Dan-non yogurts, Tillamook cheese, Chipotle restaurants, and many others. But ice cream giants Häagen-Dazs, Breyers, and Baskin-Robbins continue to use milk from cows injected with rBGH, a hormone that’s been banned in Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and all twenty-seven nations of the European Union. As if to add insult to injury, Häagen-Dazs and Breyers have the audacity to tell us, right on the label, that their ice cream is “All Natural.”
We have Monsanto to thank for rBGH. Monsanto developed the artificial hormone and marketed it aggressively for years before selling it in 2008 to Elanco, a division of the Eli Lilly drug company. Of course, Monsanto (and now Elanco) wants us to think the hormone is in every way completely satisfactory and safe. Monsanto’s party line has consistently been that there is “no significant difference” in the milk derived from cows who have been dosed with the hormone compared with those who haven’t.
Pardon me for not swallowing Monsanto’s hooey, but if that’s so, why have so many countries outlawed rBGH? Are these countries all run by ignorant Luddites who oppose technology and progress? or could there actually be compelling reasons?
There are, indeed. One of them is that injecting the genetically engineered hormone into cows increases the levels of IGF-1 in their milk. Monsanto’s own studies found that the amount of IGF-1 in milk more than doubled when cows were injected with rBGH. Studies by independent researchers show increases as high as ten-fold, which seriously increases the risk of many forms of cancer. Women with elevated levels of IGF-1 are up to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer.
As if these risks to human health weren’t enough reason for nations to prohibit the use of rBGH, there are more. The artificial hormone is also notorious for causing the cows much pain and distress. It does this by increasing painful and debilitating diseases like lameness and mastitis in cows that are injected with it. And because it increases udder infections in cows, it has greatly increased the use of antibiotics in the U.S. dairy industry.
Does the increase in udder infections have an effect on the milk, and thus any ice cream, cheese, or other product made from it? Most definitely, according to Dr. Richard Bur-roughs, a veterinarian deeply familiar with rBGH. “It results in an increase of white blood cells,” he says, “which means there’s pus in the milk!” The antibiotic use, he adds, “leaves residues in the milk. It’s all very serious.”
How, then, was such a dubious and tainted product ever approved for use in the U.S.? The answer provides a glimpse into how successful Monsanto’s efforts have been to exert control over our nation’s food policies.
By all accounts, the FDA’s 1993 decision to allow the use of rBGH was one of the most controversial in the agency’s history. Made amid widespread criticism from scientists, government leaders, and farmers—including many researchers and officials inside the FDA—the decision was overseen by Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Policy from 1991 to 1994.
Was Taylor unbiased? Prior to holding his position at the FDA, he was an attorney at King & Spaulding, Monsanto’s law firm, where he presided over the firm’s food-and-drug law practice. After the decision was made that gave the green light to rBGH, he left the FDA and resumed working directly for Monsanto, as vice president and chief lobbyist.
How significant was Taylor’s role in getting rBGH approved? on August 15, 2010, his Wikipedia entry said that he “has long been hostile to food safety,” and “is widely credited with ushering recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) through the FDA regulatory process and into the milk supply—unlabeled.” (This statement was removed from Wikipedia immediately after I referred to it in a comment following an article I wrote for Huffington Post on the topic. Apparently, if you can get your people in and out of key positions at the FDA, messing with Wikipedia is a piece of cake.)
Congressman Bernie Sanders was probably referring to Taylor when he said “the FDA allowed corporate influence to run rampant in its approval of rBGH.” Documentaries including The World According to Monsanto and The Future of Food present Taylor’s pro-Monsanto actions at the FDA as a dramatic example of how corporate influence has exerted massive control over the agency. Today, Taylor again works for the FDA, now as Deputy Commissioner of Foods.
Things have taken a different turn in Canada, but not for want of effort on the part of Monsanto. During Canada’s scientific review of Monsanto’s application for approval of rBGH, Canadian health officials said Monsanto tried to bribe them, and government scientists testified that they were being pressured by higher-ups to approve rBGH against their better scientific judgment. But in 1999, after eight years of study, Canadian health authorities rejected Monsanto’s application for approval of rBGH.
In the U.S. today, Monsanto continues to wield massive influence over national food policies. In spite of, or perhaps in response to, Monsanto’s toxic and tenacious grip on our nation’s food policy, a movement is afoot. Every day more and more people are refusing to buy ice cream and other dairy products made with rBGH. And every day another organization adds its name to the growing list of groups campaigning against Monsanto’s influence, and calling for the FDA decision allowing the use of rBGH to be revoked.
Late last year, the prestigious American Public Health Association officially called for a ban on rBGH. The Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, has likewise taken an official position opposing rBGH. So has the American Nurses Association, Health Care without Harm, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety, National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, and many other groups.
At this very moment, the plucky oregon chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is leading a nationwide effort to persuade Breyers (whose brands include Good Humor, Klondike Bars, and Popsicle), and Dreyer’s (whose brands include Häagen-Dazs, Nestlé, and Edy’s) to go rBGHfree. The campaign focuses on Breyers and Dreyer’s because they are the two largest ice cream producers in the country today.
Monsanto and its allies have a grand vision. They are intent on controlling the world’s food supply. Don’t let them. And don’t let them cram their genetically engineered products down your throat. Even in a product as tempting and sweet as ice cream, that’s no treat.
Reprinted with permission from Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution by John Robbins is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher.
The only son of the founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, John Robbins was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, but chose to walk away from Baskin-Robbins and the immense wealth it represented to “…pursue the deeper American Dream…the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem.”
Considered by many to be one of the most eloquent and powerful spokespersons in the world for a sane, ethical and sustainable future, John has been a featured and keynote speaker at major conferences sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Beyond War, Oxfam, the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States, the United Nations Environmental Program, UNICEF, and many other organizations dedicated to creating a healthy, just, and sustainable way of life. He is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and lifetime achievement awards from groups including Green America. The widespread media attention he has received has included numerous appearances on national shows including Oprah, Donahue and Geraldo. When John spoke at the United Nations, he received a standing ovation.
John serves on the Boards of many non-profit groups working toward a thriving, just, and sustainable way of life. He is the Founder and Board Chair Emeritus of EarthSave International (earthsave.org), an organization dedicated to healthy food choices, preservation of the environment, and a more compassionate world. John is also the Board Chair of YES! (yesworld.org), which educates, inspires and empowers young leaders to take positive action for all life on Earth.
John’s life is dedicated to creating an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet. He lives with his wife Deo, their son Ocean and his wife Michele, and their grandsons River and Bodhi in the hills outside Santa Cruz, California. The Robbins’ offices and home run on solar electricity.