It's been one month since Monsanto Co. began selling its drug
to increase cows' milk production. Some call it BST, others call it
BGH; and some critics call it names that can't be printed here.
Federal health officials call it safe, but some consumers and milk
producers aren't convinced.
So, the Post-Dispatch is stepping back from its daily coverage
to present some questions and answers about Monsanto's new drug.
Q. What is it?
A. Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a natural protein found in a
cow's pituitary gland. The protein helps calves grow and stimulates
milk production in cows. BST also is the nickname for the
genetically engineered drug derived from this protein. BST is not a
Scientists often call the protein bovine growth hormone (BGH).
Generic names for the drug include rBST and rBGH. The "r" stands
for "recombinant," a synonym for "genetically engineered." The
Monsanto brand name is Posilac.
Q. How is it used?
A. The drug is injected into a cow's rump or behind its
shoulder. Cows get approximately 18 shots a year. The drug raises
milk production by 10 to 20 percent.
Q. Is milk from treated cows different from milk from untreated
A. There is "virtually no difference," said Dr. David A.
Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. There is
no way using "current scientific techniques" to distinguish them,
he said. Milk from treated cows has the same nutritional value and
composition as milk from untreated cows, the FDA says.
Q. Why doesn't the FDA order a special label for products from
A. The FDA lacks authority to do that because the drug is not
considered an ingredient or an additive. However, the FDA says food
producers and grocers may "voluntarily" label their products as
excluding milk from treated cows as long as the labels are
"truthful and not misleading."
Q. How do you define `truthful'?
A. That's a question keeping lawyers working overtime. The FDA
has issued interim rules saying labels on food - and promotional
signs in stores - must avoid suggestions that milk from
BST-injected cows is different from, or inferior to, milk from
People making these claims must keep detailed records and must
certify that milk from BST-treated cows is segregated from other
milk. The FDA is working on final regulations. Several states are
considering labeling laws.
Q. Who's for BST?
A. Supporters include the American Medical Association,
American Dietetic Association, Grocery Manufacturers of America,
the National Food Processors Association and federal health
Q. Who's against it?
A. Opponents include Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer
Reports; and the Pure Food Campaign, which is run by Jeremy
Rifkin's Foundation on Economic Trends; the National Farmers Union;
and the Humane Farming Association.
Q. What about others?
A. Many trade groups and companies say they are "neutral." For
example, St. Louis' largest grocery chains proclaim neutrality, but
they concede that they won't ban products made from BST-injected
Then, there are groups like the Dairy Coalition, which
represents two huge trade organizations - the International Dairy
Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation. They
avow neutrality, but they have lobbied for the pro-BST position on
food labeling. They want strict burdens of proof placed on
companies that say their products come from untreated cows.
Another group declaring neutrality is the National Association
of State Departments of Agriculture. It also takes a pro-BST stance
Q. What are the major complaints?
A. Critics say the drug's impact on humans was not adequately
tested, and they worry about the impact of BST on cows' health.