The Viva Vine: vol #2, no #4: September / October 1993
Franken-Veggies a la FDA

Food safety warrior Jeremy Rifkin has said about genetic engineering that "in the short twenty years since its birth, the new technology of genetic engineering has changed our world more profoundly than any of history's discoveries. Yet the world is generally unaware of, and fully unprepared for the changes this new science has brought."

What makes genetic engineering such a break from the past? Basically what we have here is man trying to improve on nature, sidestep ecological balances and introduce new life forms. There is always the risk that one day a new life form may escape from the laboratory or its controlled distribution. How, and at what cost could an escaped life form be feasibly recalled? It happens that insurance companies are shying away from insuring biotech companies these days.

As pointed out in the introduction to the book "Jurassic Park" (upon which the current Steven Spielberg movie is based), genetic engineering, unlike breakthrough technologies of the past, is being conducted, first, by many disparate people in locations all over the world, and second, by scientists who are not involved with academic research for its own sake but by people who have their careers and livelihoods tied to the commercial interests of a company.

So, genetic engineering is dangerously widespread on the one hand, and prey to human folly and greed on the other.

bgh protestersThis photograph was taken at one of the early milk dumps which took place before BGH became legal. Photo was taken on the upper west side of Manhattan in front of D'Agostino's [CLICK IMAGE TO SEE ENLARGEMENT];
Photograph by Vito Torelli.

Genetically engineered life forms represent a gigantic step beyond the simple development through selective breeding of hybrid corn, for instance, or even Tennessee walking horses. Not a slow process, genetic engineering is a blind throw of the dice when genes of two life forms are pasted together.

The development of genetically engineered BGH (bovine growth hormone) is one of the most important issues going on today. It should be of interest to a vegetarian regardless of whether one drinks milk or not. The decisions going on now regarding this issue will set precedents which will effect the purity of foods forever. If BGH becomes a reality for the milk industry, it will open the floodgates to a deluge of other genetically engineered products. For vegetarians it could mean not knowing if the food you eat is more plant, or more animal. For allergy sufferers, finding the cause of one's allergies may get harder and harder to pin down.

Today, BGH is being examined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The job of the FDA is to evaluate products with regard to safety to humans alone. So far, nothing has been shown to distinguish the composition of genetically engineered milk apart from regular milk. Still, according to Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, "milk from [BGH]-treated cows is likely to contain more pus and bacteria than milk from untreated cows." Contaminants occur at higher levels in milk from BGH-treated cows because such cows are more likely to get mastisis, an infection of the udder. Milk with pus in it is a bit unsavory to begin with; but this milk is likely to sour more easily as well.

But pus leads us to the real problem. The danger, it happens, with a higher incidence of mastitis in cows, is in the solution. With the FDA estimating that BGH treated cows risk contracting mastitis 50% more often than untreated cows, farmers will more often have reason to treat the infections with antibiotics.

The BGH issue, for nothing else, has brought out the fact that the FDA only tests for the residues of 4 antibiotics that may be in milk. The fines and penalties to a farmer who uses these antibiotics on their cows, albeit, are high. But farmers today are likely to simply turn around and use other antibiotics that won't be detected. In fact, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that some 60 antibiotics and other drugs are widely used on dairy farms, many of which are illegal.

Antibiotic residues in animal foods already have wreaked havoc on the ability of therapeutic antibiotics to cure infection in humans. Stronger and exceedingly more expensive therapeutic antibiotics today are necessary to fend off previously simple medical problems. When will it end?

BGH is an animal rights issue as well. Cows, as the Humane Farming Association points out in their literature, "can't say no." The question is, who are we (that is, humans) to administer hormones to cows?

Why was BGH even developed? Why did four giant chemical companies: Monsanto, Eli Lilly, American Cyanimid and Upjohn, spend $500 million to create a substance that boosts milk production in cows by up to 25%? The U.S. government is quite awash in milk and forces taxpayers to pay for surplus milk and cheese already being produced. Estimates say that in the first 2 years after BGH is on the market it will cost taxpayers $1.7 billion in government price supports.

And what is the human cost of approval of BGH? Dairies that refuse to use BGH are likely to be put out of business. Their systems will obviously be less efficient and more costly.

It is very likely that the FDA will approve BGH on the grounds of safety, though it seems it should be judged upon a lot of other factors as well. The next fight will then be labeling. Consumer advocates like Jeremy Rifkin and his Pure Food Campaign strongly believe that any genetically engineered food be labeled. Of course this will be extremely costly to those BGH milk producers, so they are fighting it. It may be that only those companies that declare themselves to be BGH free will label their products so; but Monsanto and the rest know that if this is allowed it is sure to kill a lot of their business. It may be that the government will not allow any label.

The Pure Food Campaign, the same people who brought you The Beyond Beef Campaign, must be vehemently supported at this time. They plan to launch a grass roots campaign with a broad based coalition against BGH and genetic engineering. Those companies that refuse to go on record as BGH free will be the target of a massive campaign when and if BGH is approved.

Contact and support 1) The Pure Food Campaign, 1130 17th St., NW, Suite 630, Washington D.C. 20036; call: 800/451-7670; and 2) The Human Farming Association, 1550 California St., Suite 4, SanFrancisco, CA 94109.

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