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1-Hormones: Protests over rBGH use in New Zealand

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TITLE:  Protests Over rBGH Use in New Zealand
SOURCE: Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific, Press Release
DATE:   May 3, 1999

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Protests Over rBGH Use in New Zealand
Activists Pledge to Take Action!

The Steering Council (board) members of the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) discussed the application to the New Zealand government for the use of rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) in the Dairy Industry, at a recent meeting in Malaysia. Members from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea and India representing networks of consumers, women's and environmental organizations across the region, strongly oppose the use of this growth hormone due to associated health effects - including breast and prostate cancer. "In the case of rBGH, the links to cancer, and other human health and safety concerns demands added vigilance. People have the right to know that they could be seriously jeopardizing their health, and that of their children", commented Anwar Fazal, PAN AP Steering Council Member, and Chairperson for the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). Since New Zealand dairy products are commonly sold and consumed in many of these c!
ountries, the organizations have pledged to organize actions - including boycotts of New Zealand dairy products - should the registration proceed. Currently, the application has been sent to the Animal Welfare Committee to identify any possible implications for animal welfare. Their report will be considered by the Animal Remedies Board (who registers animal remedies) on June 4th, 1999. A decision will be made on the basis of this report and on trade issues. The latter are likely to be the deciding factor.

The Problem

In many countries, New Zealand dairy products are marketed as "clean and green". The use of rBGH is not consistent with this "clean and green" image. rBGH is injected into cows to extend their period of lactation by several weeks, and thus to force them to produce more milk. Dairy cows injected with rBGH have been found to produce milk containing elevated levels of IGF-1. The IGF-1 in milk can pass into the blood stream of milk consumers. As reported in the LANCET (May, 1998) and SCIENCE (January, 1998), elevated levels of IGF-1 have been linked to increased incidence of breast cancer and prostate cancer in the U.S. In 1998, the use of rBGH was challenged in Canada. A secret study by senior Health Canada scientists concluded that important gaps in scientific procedures and data have left legitimate human health concerns about the Bovine Growth Hormone unresolved despite the drug's approval by the U.S. FDA. These scientists had charged that the original study, on which the U.S.!
 FDA had based its approval of rBGH in 1993, was false. The Globe and Mail, Canada, on September 17 reported, the scientists had "been told they will be disciplined if they speak to the media", by Blair Stannard, vice-president of their union. "There is political and financial pressure to approve the drug despite the concerns of the scientists involved," Mr. Stannard said.

Putting Trade and Politics Above Safe Food and People's Health?

In the case of New Zealand, "trade issues are likely to be very contentious," states Meriel Watts, Vice President of the New Zealand Soil and Health Association. "On the one hand, the New Zealand government will have to take into account Asian people's concerns about rBGH, and therefore threats to New Zealand's Asian markets. On the other hand, there may well be the threat of trade sanctions by the U.S. if New Zealand does not register it." "Last week, the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, Josiah Beeman, appeared on national television and warned that if New Zealand tried to label genetically engineered food, trade sanctions might follow", Watts explained. This is no doubt in response to the decision by Health Ministers on December 17, 1998 to move towards the labelling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in Australia and New Zealand. At the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (ANZFSC) meeting in Canberra, the Health Ministers asked ANZFA (the Australia NZ Food Authori!
ty) to require labelling of genetically modified food. ANZFC consists of Health Ministers from the Commonwealth, each state and Territory and the New Zealand Associate Minister for Health. "Although ANZFA has come out in favour of labelling GE food, the New Zealand government has not committed itself to this decision. But the New Zealand public is demanding labelling, a moratorium on the growing of GE crops and a full Royal Commission of Enquiry. So far the New Zealand government has not agreed to any of these things, and it could be because of fear of offending the U.S.", explains Watts. "It is deplorable that the U.S. is undermining the New Zealand peoples call to label GE foods, and their right to know about food containing genetically modified materials" stated Jennifer Mourin, PAN AP Safe Food Campaign Coordinator. "This is not a trade issue but it is a matter of food safety and people's health. People have a right to know if potentially harmful materials are present in t!
heir food, and they have a right to choose not to buy genetically 
she added. Another regional organization, Consumer International Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (CI ROAP), have expressed concern about this issue and will be looking into the matter. "There is some evidence that cows treated with rBGH have suffered from increased udder infections (mastitis), severe reproductive problems, digestive disorders, foot and leg ailments, and persistent sores and lacerations, and ultimately live a much shorter life-span. After 4-5 years of producing extra milk, they end up as hamburgers. This is cruelty to cows!" states Dr. K Balasubramaniam, the Pharmaceutical Adviser of CI ROAP. This is surely something the New Zealand Animal Welfare Committee needs to take into account in their assessment of the drug. Additionally, consumers have every right to question the kind of foods produced from such diseased animals.

Implications for Asia?

There has been significant trade between many Asian countries and New Zealand, especially in terms of diary produce. "Should the application go through, and rBGH be used by dairy farmers, we will have to question the safety of dairy products that we buy from New Zealand" stresses Mourin. The decision by the Australia NZ Food Authority to label genetically modified food would give people in importing countries, like Malaysia, a chance to know if they were buying genetically modified food. "Many countries, like Malaysia, that do not have labelling requirements, will be allowing in genetically modified food products and materials - and consumers will not be able to make a choice on whether to buy or not. This was exactly the case with Roundup Ready Soyabeans", adds Mourin.

Groups Take Action

Concern for the health risks of rBGH has prompted action from a growing number of groups in several Asian countries. After being informed of this issue by PAN AP, the Malaysian Vegetarian Society (MVS) and ERA Consumer based in Malaysia were among the first groups to send their letters of concern to the New Zealand Minister of Food and Fibre, John Luxton, as well as Sarah Dennis, the New Zealand High Commissioner. ERA Consumer is the national coordinator on Food Security in Malaysia, and the vice Chair of the Southeast Asia Food Security and Fair Trade Council, composed of key NGO personages from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Other groups from countries including India, Korea, Japan and the Philippines are also primed to take action.

For further information contact:
Jennifer Mourin, Safe Food Campaign Coordinator, at PAN AP.
Tel: (604) 657 0271/656 0381. Fax: (604) 657 7445

Meriel Watts, Vice President, Soil and Health Association, Auckland, New Zealand.


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