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Environmental Studies

rBGH and the mis(Use) of Science

Introduction and Theory
What is rBGH?
Actors Motivations

The Portrayal of Human Health Science

The Portrayal of Animal Health Science

Where Are Our Values?
The Future of the Debate
References & Links

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rBGH and the (mis)Use of Science

Actors Motivations


Each side of the debate has vested interests in the portrayal of science in this controversy. Those who support the use of rBGH have significant economic incentive. Cows injected with POSILAC have been shown to produce up to twenty percent more milk, allowing farmers to keep smaller herds for a similar amount of milk production (Eaton, 2004). For an industry that maintains low profit margins, any development of this type that conserves resources while increasing output is welcomed. Monsanto, for its own part, has invested considerable time and money into the development of POSILAC. Some estimates put research and development costs at over one billion dollars (Eaton, 2004). POSILAC has also proved to be an incredibly profitable and widely dispersed product. Of the nine million dairy cows in the United States, approximately one-third of them are in a herd that uses POSILAC (Monsanto, 2008). In the second quarter of 2008, Monsanto reported total net sales of $3.78 billion with the category “All other agricultural productivity products,” assumedly including POSILAC as it is not specifically mentioned in other categories, earning $252 million (bNet, 2008). While it is difficult to calculate the exact profit of POSILAC because Monsanto does not clearly publish such information, Wall Street Journal analysts have speculated the product earns Monsanto around 300 million annual sales, or 5% of the companies earnings (Elias 2004). Thus, Monsanto has a very strong incentive to ensure that scientific results pertaining to rBGH use are portrayed in their favor. 

Citizen Organizations

The other side of the debate consists mainly of citizen consumer and health organizations that are concerned about both the human and animal health impacts of rBGH. These groups are first concerned about the risks to human health that rBGH may pose. Their concerns include links to cancer and higher antibiotic residues in milk products. Secondarily, these groups are also concerned by the established links to animal health when injected with rBGH. One study found that injected cows had a 50% greater chance to suffer from lameness (leg and hoof problems) and a 25% increase in the occurrence of mastitis (an infection of the udder). In fact, Monsanto acknowledges on the label of POSILAC that it could make cows more susceptible to mastitis, as will be shown in the animal health section (Bedford, 2000). Many of these organizations, hence, believe that the scientific uncertainty surrounding human health and the known detrimental effects to animal health are reason enough to ban the use of this product. 

Monsanto Logo

Figure 7:  Monsanto's logo

Center for Food Safety Logo

Figure 8: The Center for Food Safety


                    Figure 9: One Branch of the Cancer Prevention Coalition                                                               Cancer prevention coalition

    Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility' Campaign for Safe Food     

Figure 10: Part of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility                 

Last updated:  5/9/2008


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