Digest – News: So Monsanto, going to take on Wal-Mart? Meanwhile, raw milk’s losing

It ain’t over until the biotech giant screams: Wal-Mart says its private-label milk will be produced with no artificial growth hormones, aka Monsanto’s rBST drug Posilac. (Globe and Mail) Related: Kroger wants to be able to tell consumers in its more than 3,200 groceries and convenience stores that its milk is rBST-free, and it’s not very happy that Monsanto’s pawn Ohio is vetoing its labels. (The Enquirer)

You lose some, you win most: Mexico approves rules to begin planting genetically modified corn. Monsanto cackles quietly to itself before throwing puppies in the cauldron. (Reuters)

Raw-milk victory followed by stormtrooper visit: A judge granted raw-milk producers Organic Pastures and Claravale a temporary restraining order against the state, reports David Gumpert at The Complete Patient, but a few hours later the Feds came calling to harass OP employees for selling its milk across state lines as pet food. We sleep so much better knowing that the FDA is devoting manpower to important problems like that instead of these.

No E. coli left behind: A simple change in laboratory methods means USDA inspectors will find more beef contaminated with deadly E. coli bacteria this year. (The Des Moines Register)

Oh, that’s all right then: Scientists have transplanted a gene from the roundworm C. elegans into pigs to create "heart-healthy" meat. Three of the six piglets subsequently had to be killed because of heart defects. "These defects appear to be a result of the cloning process rather than the introduced gene," this industry article deadpans. (Pig Progress)

Appearances are everything: Nobody seems happy with the USDA’s proposed new "naturally raised" meat labeling plan, which will be allowed to exist cheek by jowl with the meaningless "natural." One problem cited: Meat that doesn’t qualify as naturally raised "will appear to be somehow ‘unnatural.’" (Des Moines Register)

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble?: Farmland prices in Iowa are rising rapidly — over 18% in the last year on average — despite the current nationwide credit crisis. Strong demand for corn (thanks to ethanol refining tax credits and other government policies) is a big reason, as is land speculation by hedge funds and other financial institutions. (Agriculture.com; via The Rural Blog)

Plants are suffocating: Part of the controversy around the EPA’s recent revision of the ozone standard is the White House’s weakening of the "secondary standard," which is intended to protect plants from ozone damage. One researcher interviewed found an unexpectedly strong impact of air pollution on crops. (Living on Earth)

G’day, GMOs: More than 700 groups and individuals have signed a letter urging Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and senior ministers to examine the health risks associated with genetically modified foods. (The Age)

Assuming you don’t die of boredom first: Study finds gluten-free vegan diet may help ease rheumatoid arthritis. (Reuters)

Not in My Child’s Body: An internal report by the FDA found that there was little or no support among Americans for food from cloned animals, claims the Center for Food Safety et al. (Food Quality News)

Breast milk 17, formula 0: Naturally occurring arsenic in well water is a health threat or many Bangladeshis, but a new study finds that breastfeeding can protect babies from arsenic exposure even if the mothers’ arsenic exposure was relatively high. (Environmental Health Perspectives)

Fertilizer companies spent $900,000 on lobbying in 2007 (CNN Money/AP)
Prized Spanish fighting bull to be cloned (New York Times)
Plastics industry battles bag bans (MSNBC.com)
Sisters from Virginia sell Illinois-shaped corn flake on eBay for $1,350 (Capital Press)

16 Responsesto “Digest – News: So Monsanto, going to take on Wal-Mart? Meanwhile, raw milk’s losing”

  1. anne says:

    I love you guys. thanks for existing!

  2. Leslie says:

    Nice job, Wal-mart! Wait, did I just type that???

  3. denise richter says:

    I commend your interest in the food you are consuming, but I would like to set a few “facts” straight. ALL MILK CONTAINS HORMONES, SPECIFICALLY BST. BST is NOT harmful to humans because it is a bovine (cow) specific hormone and therefore the human body cannot use it. All milk on every retailers shelves has the same hormones in the same quantity. These “scare rumors” have been spread by the middle man to increase his income. The increase cost of the”rbST free milk” is all for the middle man’s wallet. ALL milk is rbST free. Cows injected with rbST use it to increase their ability to produce milk. The rbST never enters the milk cow’s milk supply. It only increases her ability to produce milk.

    This increased ability to produce milk by cows who are supplemented is actually better for our environment. For every one million cows injected with rbST, the POSITIVE impact on the environment is:

    Water – Saves 6.6 billion gallons of water every year

    Feed – Reduces the amount of animal feed needed by over 3 billion pounds per year

    Land – Decreases the land area required for raising cows and growing feed by over 417 square miles

    Fuel – Saves more than 5.5 million gallons of gas and diesel fuel every year

    Air – Lowers greenhouse gas emissions by 30,000 metric tons per year

    Manure – Reduces the manure generated by approximately 3.6 million tons every year

    There is NO test available that can determine whether milk came from cows that were supplemented or not. So why would you spend extra money for something you can’t be sure you are getting? Sure the middle man will tell you that he has agreements with the producers, but with no test available how can you be sure and why should you be expected to pay extra money for something that you can’t be sure you are actually getting.

    I am a dairy farmer and I am telling you this because I am also a consumer and I don’t like the way consumers are being misled on this issue. Don’t let the “scare mongers” win. Show them that you are a fully informed consumer! I am a mother too, so I wouldn’t feed my family anything I didn’t know was 100% safe & I NEVER buy anything with a label that tells me what ISN’T in the product (hormone-free, antibiotic-free, etc.). Do you know how many pages that would take to include everything that isn’t in a product? It makes no sense. I want to know what IS in the food and you should too.

  4. Bonnie P. says:

    Hi Denise:

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. It’s true that most consumers seem to be worried about the potential side effects of synthetic hormones on their and their children’s health. However there is another reason many consumers, like me, want to know whether milk has been produced with synthetic hormones: humane animal care.

    Use of Posilac, aka rBST, is well documented as being accompanied by higher rates of mastitis (painful udder irritation) and is usually part of a system of intensive high production that includes feeding high-calorie, low-fiber rations that cause acidosis and laminitis. This system is what produces the pitiful creatures we saw in the Hallmark/Westland video: spent dairy cows that are only a few years old, unable to walk, with almost no meat on their exploited frames. I do not want to support this system in any way as long as alternative farmers exist who do NOT treat cows and other living creatures as machines whose inputs and outputs can be manipulated with steroids.

    Your citations as to the environmental benefits of factory farming are offensive in their logic, which is essentially this: if we raise animals to produce as much protein as fast as possible, ignoring the effects on their bodies (and by extension, the bodies of those who eat them, such as this Crohn’s Disease tie-in), the resources we save from their shortened lives translate into supposed “benefits.” Under this logic, why not inject all children with human growth hormone so they can reach adolescence faster, breed earlier, and die earlier having satisfied their evolutionary responsibilities while using up less of the planet’s resources? We’d definitely save the planet if we just shortened humanity’s average life span, too.

    I hope you will agree that I and other Ethicurean readers are not just the dupes of the “scare mongers” and supposed middlemen trying to make a buck off our ignorance. We are voting with our dollars for the values that we believe in, and Monsanto’s attempt to take this right away from us, using state legislatures as its pawns, is un-American and anti-capitalistic.

    [And my ReCaptcha comment word is "nonfarm" which is just too perfect.]

  5. ExPat Chef says:

    As far as the “heart healthy” pig cloning project … did anyone stop to examine the heart healthy meat from naturally raised pigs as an existing solution? I didn’t think so, but I had to ask …

  6. denise richter says:

    Hi Bonnie,
    You obviously haven’t been around dairy cows. But since I am a fourth generation dairy woman, who has lived with cows for 50 years now, let me tell you a little something about these marvelous animals. Although they are big in size, they are VERY sensitive animals. If they are the slightest bit stressed, uncomfortable, or their rations (feed) not perfectly balanced, their milk production begins to decrease. If conditions don’t improve, they will quit lactating. So you can see it is in the farmers & the cows best interest that we, the farmers, take the very best care we possibly can of these “girls”. So what you saw in the Hallmark/Westland video that you mentioned is a VERY RARE exception & that farm, if left alone, would not be in business long. The cows will see to that! Our “girls” see a vet once a month and have a professional nutrionist balance their diet weekly. This is a standard practice on most dairy farms. Most people don’t take of their own family’s as well as dairymen take care of their cows!

    As far as your feeling that my logic on the environmental impact is “offensive”. I am sorry, you feel that way, but facts are facts.

    I am not opposed to your rights on labeling. HOWEVER, label the product for what it actually has in it, not what ISN’T in it. That label would have to be hundreds of feet long! It makes no sense. When I buy something, I want to know what is in it. That is all that matters.

    I am also not opposed to your right to pay more for the same product. HOWEVER, don’t take away the other consumers’, who can’t afford to pay more, right to purchase the same milk at what its true value is. And don’t take away the farmer’s right to run his business in the manner he feels is right.

  7. Emily H. says:


    As far as I know, consumers are still able to purchase milk for its “true value” (though I would hardly call conventionally produced dairy representative of its true value once you factor in environmental costs) by opting for milk that doesn’t advertise its lack of rBST. The only reason farms have begun labeling their milk as free of rBST is that farmers who use the steroid are not required to state that they do so. And for the reasons Bonnie cited, consumers DO want to know if their milk has been treated with hormones. In my opinion, the environmental factors you cite are not worth the costs to the animals given the steroids.

    I’m curious: Over the 50-year period that you’ve been living with dairy cows, what has been the lifespan of your girls? Did you notice an increase or decrease when you began using rBST? (I’m assuming you do give the hormone to your cattle, but I apologize if I misinterpreted.)

    Last, from what I understand, the injection of extra BST in the form of rBST in cows increases the presence of another hormone, IGF-1, which does remain in the milk. This hormone has been shown in a number of studies to increase the risk of various cancers in humans—including breast and prostate. I realize that IGF-1 is already present in cows and their milk and that there are probably an equal number of studies disputing the cancer claims. But given the ease with which a farmer can simply refrain from giving her cows steroids (at least until enough NON-industry studies are done), cancer is a pretty nasty risk I’m just not gonna take.

  8. denise richter says:

    Okay, first of all rbST is a HORMONE, not a steroid. And secondly the synthetic hormone rbST does not appear in ANY milk. If it did, we would be able to test the milk, which has been established there is NO test that can tell the milk apart. Which also disproves your theory about the increased IGF-1 in milk. None of what you talk about has been established. They are simply rumors, which are designed to separate people from their money. That is why so many of us farmers are trying to get the word out ourselves rather than relying on the processors and the retailers, because we have discovered that they are deceiving the consumers and farmers pride themselves on honesty..

    As far as my girls’ life span. If anything I have noticed an increase in their life span due to modern technology. And yes I have used rbST.

  9. Emily H. says:

    I should clarify (although I thought I was clear in my use of the term “extra” and “BST”), cows do naturally produce BST; I did not state that they harbor synthetic BST, or rBST. Naturally occurring BST does stimulate the production of IGF-1, which studies show does remain in the milk; these same studies purport that it would follow that extra BST, in the form of rBST, would stimulate a greater production of it.
    As for this information being established: In my previous post, I acknowledged that there are studies supporting both sides of the debate. However, the majority of funds allocated for studying the safety of this technology are provided by the hormone-suppliers themselves, and often conducted by the very companies promoting their hormone. I’m not ready to bank my health on their word.

  10. Robyn M. says:

    Wow, this is just stunning. Why is it so hard to understand that some of us do not want to support factory-farming? My family doesn’t see a doctor every month because they don’t *need* to–they’re healthy! I don’t want milk from a cow with a “carefully-balanced diet”, I want my cow to eat *grass*–you know, that green stuff that they’re designed to eat & digest? Using rBST and rBGH (and similar things) are reliable indicators that the cows spent most of their lives on feedlots, with all the attendant environmental and moral ills (which I don’t believe for a second are counterbalanced by the purported list of benefits above). I don’t want anything to do with that system of dairy production, and ****-free labels are at least one way of avoiding it.

  11. denise richter says:

    Wow, you really do live in a fairy tale world, don’t you. My advice to you is to put a cow in your back yard. Cows need more than grass to be health! Just like humans need more than bread. The reason they are seen once a month by a vet is because half of them just had a baby and the other half are pregnant. They aren’t sick! Cows that are on dairies today live longer and are healthier then their ancestors who grazed in the fields because we know how to take care of them better, just like humans live longer now because we know how to take of us better.

    Don’t curse the farmer with your mouthful.

  12. Robyn M. says:

    My cows are in my “backyard”–that being in my friend and farmer’s pasture. It’s amazing how well they do. Wouldn’t dream of cursing him, he’s a wonderful guy. But gee, I had no idea that Clinton, Indiana, was a fairy tale world; maybe we should sell tickets?

  13. Charlotte says:

    Wow. What’s with the agribusiness trolls?

  14. Amanda Rose says:

    If I increased my own milk consumption by 10 pounds per day and was always pregnant, I surely would need monthly care and a weekly supplement watch. As it was, I ran out of letters in the alphabet in my support needs back in the day.

    It’s hard to imagine what an extra ten pounds of milk a day would do in that department. I expect there would be parts of me dragging the ground even when I was vertical.

    I’m glad to hear that your cows don’t mind the baggage, Denise.


  15. denise richter says:

    What is with the name calling, agribusiness trolls??? Really, were not five are we? Sorry I’m not going to that level. I stopped by your site because I thought you might like to know what is really going on in the dairy industry, but if you can see cows from your back yard, you obviously know more about the dairy industry than us farmers. To those of you who read my comments with an open mind, I thank you. To the rest of you, enjoy your fantasy world.

  16. Bonnie P. says:

    Denise: We don’t condone name-calling on this blog, so sorry. But your condescension to us non-farmers isn’t exactly mature, either. I really find it hard to believe that you are leaving comments out of an altruistic impulse to “save” the consumer from the higher prices charged by your competitors who choose not use synthetic hormones to boost milk production:

    That is why so many of us farmers are trying to get the word out ourselves rather than relying on the processors and the retailers, because we have discovered that they are deceiving the consumers and farmers pride themselves on honesty.

    As you point out, these dairies produce less milk per animal, which means more feed. With feed prices so high, don’t they deserve to charge more for their milk?

    I’m sorry, I guess in my “fantasy world” I thought farmers showed solidarity with each other, instead of sticking up for a billion-dollar biotech corporation like Monsanto that wouldn’t hesitate to sell out their loyalty for a penny increase in its stock price.

    While your perspective has been enlightening, I feel you’re not going to be saving any consumers from the “scare mongers” here. No one is telling you as a dairy farmer what to do — you enjoy the choice to use rBST or not, we would like a choice to avoid food produced with it. You can lead a consumer to milk all you want, but you can’t make him drink.