| TILLAMOOK, Oregon,
February 17, 2005, Vince Patton, KGW-TV, Portland, OR,
via CropChoice: A barrage of consumer questions
and complaints has convinced the Tillamook Creamery Association
to force all of its dairies to abandon the use of genetically
engineered growth hormones in its cows. The move is sparking
a rebellion by some farmers, re-ignites a decade-old controversy
and puts Tillamook on the national stage by spurning the
biotech giant, Monsanto, which makes the growth hormone.
Tillamook's 147 member dairy farmers have been told
to sign an affidavit before a notary public swearing
they do not use rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone).
Reflecting Tillamook's concern about publicity, the
affidavit also swears the farmer to secrecy.
However when confronted by KGW, the creamery confirmed
the dramatic change and reluctantly agreed to discuss
"We've seen a lot of feedback from our consumers,"
says Tillamook Creamery Association President Jim McMullen,
"When eight percent of your customers are talking
about that issue, that's substantial and we need to
Tillamook dairy farmer Dick Heathershaw decided to
try the synthetic hormone 4 years ago. The biotech giant
Monsanto wanted him to add "Posilac" to his
cows' routine: a bi-weekly syringe full of genetically
engineered growth hormone. Heathershaw says, "They
(Monsanto) were just really relentless in pushing it,
you know. They'd visit you continually."
One injection every 14 days kept the cows' hormones
artificially inflated. As a result, they ate more and
produced more milk. He says he saw milk production in
rBGH-treated cows rise about five percent, not the 10
to 15% Monsanto touts for its product.
The artificial growth hormone was approved more than
a decade ago by the Food & Drug Administration,
but Heathershaw was late to try it.
Now he strongly supports the unanimous vote of Tillamook's
board to ban the growth hormone. He used it for two
years but did not like what he saw. "We started
to see some health problems we didn't like with our
cows," he says. "They're just under a lot
Animal welfare and human health issues have prompted
more than 22 consumer groups to call for the ban of
Posilac in milk production.
For years when consumers asked Tillamook if its dairies
used artificial growth hormones, the Creamery replied
with an evasive form letter simply stating that it only
accepted milk "that meets or exceed U.S. health
standards." McMullen concedes it never answered
the question directly.
"I just thought, why can't you give me a straight
answer?" asks Rick North, the former head of the
American Cancer Society in Oregon. Today he leads a
consumer campaign in Oregon for Physicians for Social
Responsibility trying to ban rBGH.
Monsanto Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Garrett
emphasized the findings of the Food & Drug Administration
that there is no impact on human health and that milk
is exactly the same from natural cows and cows on Posilac.
However the countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
Japan and the 25 countries of the European Union all
have banned the use of Posilac due to concerns about
animal health and unanswered questions about human impacts.
Human health concerns
In Portland, Dr. Martin Donohoe, a board member of
Physicians for Social Responsibility, is not convinced
by FDA reassurances. He's most concerned by studies
that indicate Posilac inflates the levels of another
hormone called IGF-1 in the milk produced and other
studies which associate IGF-1 with cancer in humans.
Donahoe says, "When the data are strong and suggestive
and the consequences are enormous - we're talking about
cancer, then one should proceed with caution."
Monsanto and the FDA say the amount of IGF-1 is insignificant
and it does not affect people.
In response to a petition five years ago to stop the
use of Posilac, the FDA "reviewed the issues raised"
and said they did "not demonstrate any human food
Animal welfare concerns
Monsanto's synthetic hormone comes with a set of warnings
that cows can suffer side effects including large swellings,
significant foot problems and infected udders producing
visibly abnormal milk. Donahoe explains, "The use
of rBGH in the cattle results in infections in the udder.
Those infections transmit pus, or dead bacteria, white
blood cells into the milk." That ruins the milk
so it cannot be sold to consumers.
According to the FDA, since Posilac was approved in
1994, more than 53-thousand cows had adverse reactions
to Posilac; 376 have died.
Monsanto will not say how many cows are on the artificial
growth hormones. It says only that there are 9 million
dairy cows in America and one third of the herds use
Posilac on at least some of the cows.
Tillamook farmer Dick Heathershaw did not lose any
cows but he says they got sick more often. After two
years of using the artificial hormone, he dropped it,
and believes his cows are now healthier. "We've
never looked back," he says. "We think it's
one of the best things we did was to get our animals
off of it."
With the Tillamook Board's vote to ban artificial growth
hormone from all its member dairies, consumers who ask
Tillamook now about their policy will finally get a
straight answer. "Yes," says McMullen, "they'll
get a very distinct answer."
Heathershaw is pleased. "They want a yes or no,"
he says of Tillamook's customers, "and we're trying
to give them that. And without customers, we have nothing."
While Tillamook says it is dropping growth hormones
to satisfy customers, it has no plans to tell customers
about that by changing the labels of its products.