Got Pus? Bovine Growth Hormone, Genetic Engineering
& the New World Order
by Mitchel Cohen
Write-In Candidate for Mayor of NYC, 2001 (Green Party)
A Method to Their Madness
Monsanto is playing the same game it once played in developing the herbicide 2,4,5-T, used in Agent Orange, another Monsanto product. Back in the 1960s, Monsanto, working closely with the Pentagon and the Veterans' Administration, intentionally falsified key data on the effects of Agent Orange on human health in order to sell the deadly defoliant to the government for "use" in Vietnam. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, commander of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged that the government's exoneration of Agent Orange was "politically motivated .. to cover up the true effects of dioxin, and manipulate public perception." Similar concerns erupted over Monsanto's manufacture of Aspartame, the chief ingredient in NutraSweet and in diet soda, which causes brain lesions in laboratory rats.
And then there's Monsanto's manufacturer of PCBs. Monsanto's Sauget, Illinois plant discharges an estimated 34 million pounds of toxins into the Mississippi River. The facility is a major producer of chloronitrobenzenes, bioaccumulative teratogens detected at levels as high as 1,000 parts per billion in fish over 100 miles downstream. The factory was the world's only manufacturer of PCBs until Congress finally banned them in 1976. They are still present today, 22 years later, at high levels in Mississippi River fish and are ubiquitous in the global ecosystem.
Monsanto also manufactures butachlor (trade names: Machete, Lambast), an herbicide which poses both acute and chronic health risks and can contaminate water supplies. Although Monsanto manufactures butachlor in Iowa, the herbicide has never been registered in the U.S. or gained a food residue tolerance. In 1984, the EPA rejected Monsanto's registration applications due to "environmental, residue, fish and wildlife, and toxicological concerns." Monsanto has refused to submit additional data requested by the EPA. Despite its recognized dangers, Monsanto sells butachlor abroad. Dozens of countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa use the product, primarily on the paddy rice which constitutes almost all of U.S. rice imports. Clearly, Bovine Growth Hormone is just the tip of the iceberg. Today, Monsanto, Hoffman-LaRoche and other manufacturers of vaccines injected, often involuntarily, into GIs, are working "behind the scenes to contain the government investigation of Gulf veterans' health problems."
Monsanto and other pharmaceutical companies continue to cover-up the dangers in genetically-engineered drugs, herbicides, pesticides and uranium weaponry — a cover-up essential to ensuring mega-profits, business as usual. As in the cases of dioxin/Agent Orange, PCBs and Aspartame, neither Monsanto nor the FDA have performed the appropriate long term studies on the effects of rBGH on the environment or on the health of people. Nevertheless, rBGH was fast-tracked through government, with strong support from the Clinton-Gore administration. Meanwhile, Monsanto flouted the law at every opportunity. One law, for instance, required Monsanto to notify the FDA about every complaint the company received from dairy farmers such as Charles Knight, whose situation we discussed earlier. But four months after Knight complained to Monsanto, the FDA had still heard nothing from the company. Monsanto officials say it took all of those months to figure out that Knight was complaining about rBGH!
After witnessing so many lies, it is no wonder that people across the country — indeed, throughout the world — don't trust a thing Monsanto says. For instance, the company claimed that every truckload of milk in Florida is tested for excessive antibiotics. But Florida dairy officials and scientists on camera say this is simply not true.
Likewise, Monsanto says that Canada's ban on rBGH had nothing to do with human health concerns. But Canadian government officials say just the opposite, and that, in fact, Monsanto had tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain approval for rBGH. (Monsanto officials say those funds were for "research.") No wonder that outraged consumers have forced legislation to be introduced requiring labeling of dairy products derived from rBGH cows in state after state, only to be torpedoed as often by Democrats as Republicans at the behest of Monsanto. Instead, new legislation pending before Congress limits the liability of corporations, and is receiving fervent support from the pharmaceutical industry to fend off consumer lawsuits against genetically engineered products.
Both major parties fill their warchests with campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. Taking their cue from Washington, many so-called progressive Democrats such as 1997's NYC mayoral candidate Ruth Messinger and Bronx Boro President Fernando Ferrer have gone to bat for the industry and opposed labeling, under the delusion that genetic engineering is the key to progress. In today's Mayoral race in New York City, Alan Hevesi has joined Ferrer in championing the development of genetic engineering facilities as a means for "developing" New York City's infrastructure in the inner city.
Radiation and Milk
Cows' milk and other dairy products have been associated with serious health problems even before recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone was given the go-ahead by the Food and Drug Administration in late 1993. Atomic bomb tests caused radioactive isotopes like Strontium-90 to enter cows' milk in the 1950s. It became the subject of protests and national debate, and played a role in winning the first comprehensive test ban treaty on nuclear weapons.
The issue was raised again following the disastrous accidents at the Three Mile Island (March 1979) and Chernobyl (April 1986) nuclear power plants. For the first time, statistical evidence was gathered directly relating the large increases in total and infant mortality that occurred across the United States in the summer of 1986 to the heightened amount of radioactive iodine, cesium, strontium, and barium in rain and milk — fallout from Chernobyl halfway around the world. Radioactive isotopes in milk have, by now, compromised the immune systems of an entire generation. While protests have forced a few of the most dangerous chemical sprays like DDT off the market, new and even more dangerous sprays have taken their place. Chemical, hormone, antibiotic and radioactive residues in dairy products continue to contribute to the rise of asthma, cancer, AIDS and other illnesses.
The direct injection of rBGH into cows raises the issue once again. As long as kids drink milk or eat butter, ice cream, cheese or yogurt, they are especially susceptible to radiation, pesticide residues, impurities, and, in the case before us, the high levels of antibiotics and increased hormonal levels found in rBGH-derived dairy products. Monsanto claims that the government monitors antibiotic levels, and that they are safe. But the FDA generally tests for only four types of antibiotics. "Both the GAO and the Milk Industry Foundation, which reports on drug testing, have found that a wide variety of drugs are used and not tested for. Thus, an increased use of antibiotics in response to a rise in rBGH-induced mastitis would likely go undetected in the milk supply."
While most milk companies now oppose rBGH and have pledged not to use it, New York City public schools continue to contract with Tuscan, which refuses to sign rBGH-free pledges and continues to contract with farmers for milk that may come from cows injected with rBGH. "If I can't test for it, I'm not going to put our company's neck on the line by making that kind of pledge," said Peter Stigi, senior vice president of Tuscan Dairy Farms. But the FDA, Monsanto and Tuscan – are – able to test for it; they've chosen not to. In 1991, the American Medical Association said that it was possible to develop a test to distinguish between the natural hormone and rBGH. But incredibly, the FDA refused to develop an rBGH detection test. Nor did it require Monsanto to do so. Then, a German company announced that a test could easily be developed to detect rBGH in milk. But no one thought it important enough to develop it. As long as no test existed, the FDA and Monsanto could pretend that rBGH is indistinguishable from the natural hormone, implying falsely that the two hormones are identical.
Angry members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) decided to take on the bureaucracy. The NFU raised contributions and hired a laboratory, Kara Biologicals of Stanton, New Jersey, to develop a low-cost strip test to detect the presence of rBGH in milk. And now, two Cornell University researchers, Vitaly Spitsberg and Ronald Gorewit, have developed another way to detect rBGH in milk. As it turns out, Monsanto's claim that there is "no difference" between the natural hormone made by the cow and the synthetic hormone manufactured in the lab is but another false pearl in its necklace of lies. The synthetic hormone is detectable in milk because it has an addititional amino acid sequence, methionine, compared to the naturally produced hormone. How will this affect those who consume milk derived from rBGH-injected cows? No one knows; those tests have never been done.
Nevertheless, Monsanto continues fighting tooth and nail against consumer demands to require appropriate labels on dairy products. And now, the giant pharmaceutical companies are gearing up for the real battle, in which rBGH is only the opening salvo: The right to patent, own, and profit from the very substance of life itself.
What Is Genetic Engineering?
Genetic Engineering is the process of redesigning DNA molecules to create new forms of life. Scientists are recombining genes from plants, insects, bacteria, animals and humans to more fully exploit the commercial possibilities of agricultural and pharmaceutical production.
Genetically engineered foods are unlabeled and, mostly, untested. The health consequences of eating genetically engineered foods are largely unknown; what has been engineered into the genetic code of such staples as corn, soy and rice has never before been part of our diet. Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans, for example, are genetically modified to withstand increased exposure to the company's herbicide Roundup. The company advertises its soy as "herbicide resistant" — a euphemism for what is actually herbicide – saturated. We ingest these additional chemicals, produced in every cell of the plant, along with our food.
Cows fed Roundup Ready soy produce milk with significantly higher fat content than those fed ordinary soybeans. At a meeting of the Working Group on Biosafety of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity on October 13-17, 1997, scientists from around the world concluded this to be direct proof of a substantial difference between genetically modified and ordinary soy. They also found that the application of glyphosate (such as the herbicide Roundup) increased the level of plant estrogens of bean crops. Estrogen, including that from plants, is known to impact mammalian tissue and is one of the triggers of human cancer.
As if all of that is not bad enough, certain diseases are, for the first time, beginning to cross the "species barrier," following trans-species genetic implantations. There has already been some crossover between pig and human viruses, and gene modification across species also subjects us to higher levels of toxins and allergens. Genes from peanuts and Brazil nuts implanted in soy can cause severe allergic reactions, even death. Yet the products containing peanut genes have no warning labels. (Soy with Brazil nut genes were forced off the market several years ago.) Genes from flounder implanted in tomatoes to keep them from freezing, and genes from chicken spliced into potatoes to keep them from bruising raise all sorts of ethical problems for vegetarians.
Genetically-synthesized scorpion toxin is brushed on fruit to keep away pests. The manufacture of synthetic vanilla is already playing havoc with the economies of Madagascar, the Comoros Islands and Reunion Island, which depend on natural vanilla exports as their primary source of income.
Bio-engineering, backed by the might of the U.S. military, is now being used as part of a conscious policy to drive indigenous people from the lands they've traditionally shared and on which they'd grown food for themselves and their communities. Agribusiness companies, increasingly tied to pharmaceutical corporations, want profitable crops grown for export. As Oxfam puts it, "Hunger is increasing because immense wealth is flowing out of poor countries and into rich countries. Far greater wealth — in the form of crops, minerals, timber, labor power, skills and cash — is being removed from poor countries and transported to the world's wealthier countries than the other way around. More than $50 billion in capital is transferred annually from the global South to governments, banks, corporations, and lending agencies based in the global North. … [Today] the free-market revolution has only widened already extreme income inequalities and worsened poverty" throughout Latin America. ("Oxfam urges big changes at World Bank," Financial Times, Sept. 30, 1994.) In fact, in 1973, 36 of the world's most impoverished and starving countries were chief suppliers of export crops to the U.S. And it has only gotten worse.
By newly "enclosing" agricultural lands and pasture, legalizing confiscations after the fact, agribusiness corporations, USAID, the World Bank and the IMF have been able to drive formerly self-sufficient peasants and the rural proletariat off their lands and to cities in search of work, generally as laborers in near-slave conditions in assembly- or export-zone sweatshops. The lands are then taken over by giant corporations and plundered for soil-depleting strip-farmed export crops and the extraction of natural resources.
According to the USDA, only two percent of genetically engineered foods are developed to enhance taste or nutrition. 98 percent are artificially designed to make food production and processing more profitable for the 3 percent of the world's landlords — mostly giant corporations — that have come to control 80 percent of the world's land and the food grown on it.
One of the ways international agencies accomplish this is by systematically dumping cheap or free food onto the local markets, undermining local producers and forcing them to drastically cut their prices to compete. (This is different from legitimate food emergencies in which short-term contributions are critical, although even there many so-called "natural" famines are in reality man-made by the policies of the IMF and World Bank.) Since so many small producers are dependent on immediate income to stay afloat, any significant drop in income destroys their community and way of life, and enables large corporate farmers to take them over and consolidate their hold on both the production apparatus and the market. The dumping of hybrid and now cheap genetically engineered corn in Mexico, the special water and soil requirements, and the corporate patenting of seeds threaten to undermine stable indigenous communities centered around growing and marketing local corn. The Zapatista rebellion in January, 1994, focused on opposing the importation of corn under NAFTA and the destruction it would cause to their local, self-sufficient economies.
As the industry grows more sophisticated, genetic engineering — which reduces everything in nature to objects for commercial manipulation, the commodification of life itself, and the constant genuflection before the Gods of Profit — and the private-patenting of seeds provide international capital with powerful weapons for imposing the IMF, World Bank, and USAID's "structural adjustment programs" on the Third World.
Take the new genetically engineered corn. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring insect repellant that organic farmers effectively apply in small doses to individual plants. In the early 1990s, Novartis (the gigantic corporation recently invented by combining Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz) patented a way of encoding each corn plant to produce its own Bt. Instead of limited amounts of Bt being applied in specific and well-defined areas, Bt now is produced in every cell of every plant over entire fields of genetically engineered corn. Not only does this kill insects beneficial to crop pest management, it quickens widespread resistance among undesired pests, reducing diversity and, in effect, making it easier for diseases to spread quickly across the entire field, rendering Bt — which is relatively harmless to humans — completely ineffective and depriving organic farmers of one of the few insecticides that they can use safely.
As weeds and insects are repeatedly exposed to herbicides and pesticides, the varieties tolerant to the toxin survive and become the norm, reducing (and even eliminating) its effectiveness, requiring farmers to apply heavier doses of pesticide to kill increasingly resistant pests. Organisms that had been under control now become veritable plagues wiping out enormous quantities of crops. Genetically engineered foods subject us to viruses, bacteria and other organisms that mutate into more virulent strains for which we've developed no resistance. Scientists race the blights by "designing" new insecticides and herbicides before bacteria, viruses and fungi are able to modify their capacities accordingly. This only leads to an acceleration of the crop chemical treadmill, where farmers use more and stronger chemicals to control pests, more chemicals in the environment, more damage to nearby plant varieties and soil fertility, and vast reduction of biodiversity.
And so, as we move into the new millennium, we find that in just 100 years, the world has lost 95 percent of the genetic diversity that existed in agriculture at the beginning of the last century. Agribusiness already dumps more than 500 million pounds of herbicides on U.S. farmlands each year. Monsanto's Roundup, whose product sales come to $1.2 billion a year, leads the toxic parade. A study released in August 1995 found that levels of herbicides in drinking water in 29 cities and towns tested in the Corn Belt exceeded federal safety levels.
And now, researchers at Riso National Laboratory in Denmark are finding that plants — whose "natural" immunities develop over many years through the interaction of many varieties, species, and microbes as part of a coherent (if fragile) ecosystem — spontaneously cross-fertilize. Genetically engineered canola (rapeseed), for instance, passes its genes for herbicide resistance to surrounding weeds; the same is true of other plants. The offspring resulting from the cross-breeding of genetically engineered and weedy plants are not only herbicide-resistant themselves, they also are capable of passing on resistance to subsequent generations.
Unlike defective products of other technologies, genetically altered organisms, once released, are irretrievable and self-replicating. Herbicide-resistant qualities can spread to weeds. Rapid-growth capacities can spread to pests. Antibiotic resistance can spread to bacteria such as staphylococcus, diphtheria, salmonella, bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid and a whole range of dangerous diseases. And genes for new and virulent toxins can, accidentally or purposefully, spread to wild plants. Engineering on the genetic level introduces dangers of a qualitatively different magnitude which can easily become irreversible. Genetically engineered lifeforms are on the verge of permanently disrupting the already precarious ecological balance of the planet.
Why Didn't Government Just Say No?
In the global capitalist system, "research and development" means the public takes all the risk and pays for development and corporations then privatize that knowledge and reap the profits. Human health and safety, and environmental degradation, are rarely factored in in determining corporate costs. In such a system, genetic engineering makes monocropping the cost effective option. It fills acre after acre with the same kind of crop, the easier to utilize certain kinds of machinery and chemicals, "speeding up" agricultural production the way Taylorism assembly-lined industry. Genetically engineered soybeans, corn and corn syrup (a sweetener used in almost everything we drink), potatoes, strawberries and cotton are now coming to market. rBGH continues to be the spearhead of the new genetic engineering technologies which are overturning the previously unbreechable biological boundaries between species, and even between the plant and animal kingdoms.
I've already outlined a number of reasons why rBGH is bad: The cows get sick more often, die more quickly, and there's pus and increased hormone levels of all sorts in the milk, which are potentially cancer-causing. There is already a milk surplus in the U.S. and no need to artificially induce cows to produce more. Thousands of dairy farmers are being driven out of business by large factory-farms; rBGH accelerates that process, in line with the IMF's and World Bank's structural adjustment programs.
Yet Monsanto, along with such huge transnational corporations as Novartis and Eli Lilly (in which the family of former Vice President Dan Quayle holds controlling interest), remain unregulated warlords over their fiefdoms, policing dissidents and public health advocates.
How could this have happened? In 1993 the Food and Drug Administration approved recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone for use in milk cows without performing the required longterm health studies. The FDA official who "fast-tracked" rBGH approval was Michael R. Taylor. Until 1991, Taylor had been a law partner at King & Spaulding and lawyered on behalf of Monsanto during the FDA approval process of rBGH. He was soon appointed to the Food and Drug Administration, where he "fast-tracked" rBGH approval. Upon becoming Deputy FDA Commissioner, Taylor appointed others from Monsanto to positions at the FDA, with President Clinton's approval. Margaret Miller, former chemical laboratory supervisor for Monsanto, was one of them. She is now Deputy Director of Human Food Safety and Consultative Services, New Animal Drug Evaluation Office, Center for Veterinary Medicine in the US Food and Drug Administration. She published a number of pro-rBGH papers as an FDA official which were co-authored by Monsanto's hirelings, and called for policy directives exempting rBGH-milk and other genetically engineered foods from labeling.
Meanwhile, Richard Borroughs, the doctor who originally supervised the rBGH target animal safety studies, was fired (under pressure from Monsanto) for insisting on enforcement of stringent animal health standards in rBGH research.
King & Spaulding continued to represent Monsanto even as its former directors and employees fast-tracked rBGH approval through the FDA. Monsanto filed lawsuits against dairies that had labeled their milk "rBGH-free," and threatened to sue any dairy company making similar claims. Monsanto never won any of those suits; but the hundreds of millions of dollars it was willing to spend has enabled the company to get away with strong-arming dairies refusing to inject their cows with the hormone, and deterred small companies from labeling their products as "rBGH-free." Despite failing to win a single round in the courts, Monsanto has been nevertheless able to create enough economic and political intimidation on smaller companies to win economically what it cannot win in the courts.
In March 1994, the Pure Food Campaign and the Foundation for Economic Trends, under the leadership of Jeremy Rifkin, petitioned the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate Taylor's apparent conflict of interest. Three members of Congress then asked the General Accounting Office to investigate. Within days of the FET complaint, Taylor was mysteriously transferred out of the FDA.
But Taylor and Miller are hardly the only officials doing Monsanto's bidding inside the government. As Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown did more than anyone to insure that Clinton and Gore became, indeed, the Administration from Monsanto. As head of the Democratic National Committee Brown garnered huge financial contributions from the biotech industry and vigorously promoted their interests. Brown also flacked for the biotech industry's attempts to patent genetically engineered human cells against the opposition of foreign governments: "Under our laws, as well as those of many other countries, subject matter relating to human cells is patentable and there is no provision for considerations relating to the source of the cells that may be the subject of a patent application." At the time his plane crashed over war-torn Yuogslavia, Brown was accompanying a few dozen high-level corporate executives seeking to ferret out "investment opportunities" among the misery there. The conflicts of interest between government and industry are appalling — and dangerous. From Brown on down, the Clinton administration has catered to every outrageous whim of the biotech industry. Much of the government's position on genetic engineering falls under the supervision of former Hunter College president Donna Shalala, who was Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Except for Clinton and Gore, it was Shalala who had final say over these odious policies and corruption. And it was the "progressive" Shalala who has let Monsanto and the other corporations get away, literally, with murder.
Take the case of Mickey Kantor, a power-broker, former U.S. Trade Representative and trusted Clinton adviser. Kantor became Secretary of Commerce following Ron Brown's death and continued his predecessor's boosterism for biotechnology. In mid-1997, Kantor left his job at Commerce. He was immediately appointed to the Board of Directors of … the Monsanto Corporation.
Joining officials who changed job assignments from service in government to positions in the biotechnology industry was Marcia Hale. She had been assistant to the President of the United States for intergovernmental affairs. Her new appointment: Senior official for the Monsanto Corporation in coordinating public affairs and corporate strategy in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Also switching sides over the last couple of years were:
– L. Val Giddings, who went from being a biotechnology "regulator" at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to being the Vice President for Food and Agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a pro-biotech propaganda arm. Giddings, who had represented U.S. government (and, purportedly, the people's) interests at the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety Protocol, attended the second meeting on the protocol as the representative of the industry;
– David W. Beler, former head of Government Affairs for Genentech, Inc., and now chief domestic policy advisor to Al Gore;
– Linda J. Fisher, former Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Pollution Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, and now Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for Monsanto;
– Josh King, former director of production for White House events, and now director of global communications in the Washington, D.C. office of Monsanto;
– Terry Medley, former administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture, former chair and vice-chair of the US Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Council, former member of the US Food and Drug Administration food advisory committee, and now Director of Regulatory and External Affairs of Dupont's Agricultural Enterprise;
– William D. Ruckelshaus, former chief administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, now (and for the last 12 years) a member of the board of directors of Monsanto;
– Lidia Watrud, former microbial biotechnology researcher at Monsanto, now with the US Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Effects Laboratory, Western Ecology Division; and,
– Clayton K. Yeutter, former Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, former US trade representative (who led the US team in negotiating the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement and helped launch the Uruguay round of the GATT negotiations), now a member of the board of directors of Mycogen Corporation, whose majority owner is Dow AgroSciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical.
One of the leading shills for Monsanto and a very visible proponent of genetic engineering is former US President Jimmy Carter. And, should any of the legal cases make their way to the Supreme Court they will be argued before Justice Clarence Thomas, among others. Thomas — one might remember from Anita Hill's testimony — began his career as a lawyer for … Monsanto. And one of the chief witnesses on behalf of Monsanto will be Dr. Louis Sullivan, former head of Health and Human Services and now a paid apologist for the company.