The latest food fight has dairy producers and supermarkets
performing a balancing act of assuring consumers, obeying federal
laws and protecting against protests.
Some companies are performing verbal gymnastics as they decide
if they will accept dairy products made with milk from cows
injected with BST. This genetically engineered drug raises cows'
milk production by 10 to 20 percent.
BST, made by Monsanto Co., went on sale Friday and is
supported by many medical, grocery and dairy groups. They say it
will lower milk prices and make dairy farming more efficient.
BST is denounced by critics ranging from Consumers Union, the
publisher of Consumer Reports, to Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation on
Economic Trends, the most persistent and vocal opponent of the
drug. They say the drug was inadequately tested and will cause an
oversupply of milk.
Some companies immediately said they wouldn't accept milk from
But others hedged their bets in ways that came as no surprise
to John W. Erdman Jr., director of the nutritional sciences
division at the University of Illinois.
"Grocery stores don't want somebody picketing their small
(profit) margin operations," Erdman said. "They don't make much
money on milk anyway. They can't take a chance."
Because consumers are mystified by biotechnology, "it's easy
for Jeremy Rifkin to raise just a little bit of doubt," Erdman
Supermarkets and dairy producers have every right to be
nervous, added Mona Doyle, founder of The Consumer Network Inc., a
market research firm in Philadelphia.
"When we looked at this over a year ago, we said the industry
would be crazy to do it," she said. "We said consumers would see
this as an engineered food rather than nature's food."
The BST debate provoked three policy statements in two weeks
from the giant dairy producer Borden Inc.
On Jan. 25, the company wrote Rifkin's group saying it would
"not knowingly accept raw milk from cows treated with supplemental
BST." Borden said it asked for and got "writen commitments" from
Three days later, Borden released a statement that reaffirmed
its policy of "not knowingly" accepting milk from BST-injected cows.
But because there is no test to distinguish natural BST from
synthetic BST, Borden said it cannot guarantee that its products
exclude milk from BST-injected cows. "The public can be confident
that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to consume,"
By Feb. 3, Borden had dropped any reference to "not knowingly"
accepting milk from BST-injected cows. Because it has "complete
confidence" in the FDA's review of BST and because the public "can
be confident" in the milk's safety, "Borden milk may include milk
produced by BST-treated cows," it said.
Other companies, however, place no conditions on their
opposition to BST.
The drug "is a solution to a problem that never existed," said
Alan Parker, spokesman for Ben & Jerry's Homemade, the ice cream
maker based in Waterbury, Vt.
Ben & Jerry's has told suppliers it won't take milk from cows
that have been injected with BST.
It plans to place a label on its ice cream that says all milk
and cream in its products come from "family farmers" who won't use
Monsanto's drug. The label, expected to be printed within a week,
adds that Monsanto's drug is a "synthetic growth hormone" approved
by the FDA.
The FDA rejected appeals labels to signify milk from
BST-injected cows, but it said companies may voluntarily label
products if the notices "are not misleading. …