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1-Hormones: Cow drug falls foul of EU scientists

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TITLE:  Cow drug falls foul of EU scientists
SOURCE: Chemical & Industry Magazine, Issue No.7
DATE:   April 5, 1999


Cow drug falls foul of EU scientists

The European Union looks set to impose a ban on Monsanto's genetically engineered veterinary drug rBST after two scientific reviews raised concerns about its effects on animal and human health. The drug, already banned in Canada (C&I 1999, 79), is a genetically engineered version of the naturally occurring growth hormone bovine somatotropin (BST). It raises milk yields in dairy cows by 10-15% without a corresponding increase in production costs. Monsanto maintains that rBST is safe but opponents say it causes unacceptable health problems in cattle and may increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer in humans.

In the two reports, scientists from the EU's consumer protection division recommended that the drug should not be used, principally on animal welfare grounds but also because of uncertainties about the human health implications of drinking milk from rBST-treated herds. The reports will form the 'essential basis' of a forthcoming European Commission review of rBST, due to be completed by 31 December. This is the expiry date of a ten-year moratorium on rBST, imposed in 1989 on the grounds that the EU was already producing enough milk.

'I would think there's an argument for keeping the moratorium,' a Commission spokesman told C&I. In one report, the EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare concluded that 'from the point of view of animal welfare and health, this substance should not be used'. The drug causes 'painful and debilitating' conditions such as udder infections, foot problems and reproductive disorders, the committee found. The decision carried strong echoes of a January ruling by Canadian health officials that the drug caused 'unacceptable risks' to animal health. The second report, from the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Related to Public Health, called for more research into the human health effects of using rBST. The committee's main concern was that milk from rBST cows contained high levels of a growth factor called IGF-1. Some studies have linked this chemical to breast and prostate cancer. Monsanto says the animal welfare problems are manageable with good farmi!
ng practice.

'The product is used very successfully in countries with a serious approach to herd health - Mexico, for example, where it has been on the market since 1990,' says Denis Erpelding, spokesman for Monsanto's rBST marketing partner Elanco. On human health, Monsanto points to a 1998 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization that found 'no appreciable risk for consumers'. Levels of IGF-1 in rBST-treated milk are negligible compared with amounts secreted naturally in the human gut, the report found.


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