Abcs of Bst Answering the Key Questions on Monsanto's New Milk Drug
Robert Steyer Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
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 steroid.
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 cows?
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 BST-treated cows?
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 untreated cows.
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 agencies.
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 cows.
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 on labeling.
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.