The Environment Report naively pushes Monsanto-related study praising rBGH
Grist, 1 October 2008
I don't know much about Environment Report, a non-profit producer of radio reports about, uh, the environment.
But I can't say I'm impressed by its recent piece on recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), the genetically modified "feed enhancer" for dairy cows that Monsanto recently sold to Eli Lilly.
In it (transcript here*), reporter Shawn Allee sets up a contrast between a Chicago health-food store owner and a Cornell scientist. The health food guy cites the precautionary principle for his opposition to rBGH:
"People have been drinking milk for thousands of years from animals that didn't have have rgbh in them, so, I think I'm a little more comfortable drinking milk from a cow that didn't have rBGH than I am from something that is a very, very new technology."
By contrast, the Cornell scientist makes a case for rBGH. To do so, she cites her own recent team-authored, peer-reviewed study [PDF*] extolling the environmental benefits of the controversial synthetic growth hormone.
So we get the "well-meaning" hippy dunderhead against the hyper-rational scientist. In the report, the scientist tramples the hippy's logic, and we thoughtful environmentalists are left veritably thirsty for milk from rBGH-treated cows. Except ...
... it's really the reporter here who's being naive, not the health-nut.
She never mentions that the peer-reviewed study, which for her seems to settle the question of rBGH's environmental value, is shot through with Monsanto's fingerprints. Right on the front page, the report contains a "Conflict of interest statement" revealing the following about two of the study's four authors:
"[Roger A. Cady] is a full-time employee of Monsanto, holding the position of Technical Project Manager for POSILAC rbST with the primary responsibility of ensuring the scientific integrity of Monsanto publications about POSILAC; he also owns Monsanto stock. [Dale E. Bauman] consults for Monsanto in areas outside the environmental impact area and owns no Monsanto stock."
POSILAC, of course, was the company division that marketed rBGH. Oh yeah, and the peer reviewer who approved the study? That would be David H. Baker, an animal-health scientist at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Baker's corporate affiliations go back decades. From this bio:
"Dr. Baker held the position of senior scientist at Eli Lilly and Co. from 1965 to 1967 ... He also received two national-international awards from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences: the Borden Award in 1986 and the Dannon Award in 2003 ... He has consulted for several companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries ..."
Now, corporate affiliations don't automatically nullify research findings, but they surely restrict the questions that get asked. I read through the report, and found no accounting for the fact the rBGH-fed cows burn-out faster than their artificial-hormone-free peers. That fact seems to call into question the finding that rBGH-based systems require fewer cows.
Moreover, spent dairy cows typically end up getting slaughtered for meat. Which would you rather eat -- burgers from a cow that's spent its short life cranking out maximal amounts of milk, jacked up on corn and rGBH, or one that's spent its days grazing on grass and producing milk according to its own biological rhythms?
In general, the report completely neglects the quality of both the resulting milk and meat.
Rather than jacking up cows on synthetic growth hormones, I can think of another way lower dairy's carbon footprint: simply consume less of it. But that message doesn't won't generate more cash for the corporate interests that fund so much of the agriculture-related research that goes on these days.