rBGH and the (mis) Use of Science: How Our Values get Lost in Environmental Controversies
has been nearly fifteen years since the United States Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) approved Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH,
sometimes also known as Recombinant Bovine Growth Somatotropin or rBST)
for use in dairy cow milk production, but the discussion and
controversy over the decision continues. Numerous citizen organizations
have rallied against the FDA decision hoping to reverse the use of rBGH
or at least compel the FDA to require mandatory labeling of rBGH
products. These organizations have been most successful at informing
the general public about the controversy and potential hazards of rBGH;
however, Monsanto, the biotech company that produces POSILAC, the rBGH
product, has also been engaged in their own public relations campaign.
Each side has accused the other of misinforming the public using
distorted and contrived scientific results. The fact of the matter is
that scientific evidence of the effects of rBGH on human health has
been largely inconclusive, leading to a significant amount of
scientific uncertainty, which each stakeholder seeks to portray in
The Role of Science in Environmental Controversies
website will explore how science is often used and abused in
environmental controversies and how this can distract from greater
value questions. The common thread of arguments throughout this website
is related to a work by scholar Daniel Sarewitz called “How Science
Makes Environmental Controversies Worse” (2004). He argues that the use
of excessive science can distract us from the critical value questions
relating to environmental controversies. He provides three reasons for
- Science gives supporting evidence and relative data
to contesting sides of a debate that are chosen partially because they
fit into the normative lens and particular interests of each party.
- Looking a nature through a variety of disciplinary lenses may be tied to a variety of normative lenses.
uncertainty is represented through a lack of coherence among competing
studies that is amplified by “various political, cultural and
institutional contexts within which science is carried out” (p. 385).
This website will focus mainly on reasons one and three by exploring
the portrayal of science in this debate by both the citizen
organizations opposed to rBGH and by Monsanto. It will show how these
organizations downplay and ignore certain scientific studies while
handpicking others that fit their preferred understanding of reality.
Additionally, both sides capitalize on the aspects of scientific
uncertainty, each portraying it in their favor. This is an instance in
which scientific research has really detracted from greater value
questions in our society of biotechnology, economics and scientific
uncertainty that should be addressed before science can play an
effective role in solving this environmental controversy.
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Figure 1: A dairy cow lounging in a field
Figure 2: Cows on a Range