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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

Animal Health Portrayal


As Monsanto is primarily targeting farmers for sale, they have substantially more published information on animal health to reassure farmers that their product is safe and will not affect their herd in any significantly adverse way. However, Monsanto does acknowledge certain health effects. Cows injected with POSILAC experienced a reduction in pregnancy rates, a more frequent occurrence of twins when pregnancy did occur, lighter birth weights for the newborns, an increased incidence of cystic ovaries for the mothers and a shorter gestation period. However, Monsanto claims, “the apparent effects of POSILAC on reproduction are seen to be largely accounted for by the increased milk production” (Monsanto, 2008). In other words, these outcomes are ‘natural’ side effects of increased milk production even if the cow was not taking POSILAC, according to Monsanto. 

Figures 10 and 11 to the left are the animal health warnings on the POSILAC label.

    One of the most frequent charges against POSILAC is its links with the condition mastitis. Mastitis can be a costly disease for dairy producers because it lowers milk yield, increases production costs and decreases milk quality. There is an established link between higher milk production in dairy cows and increased mastitis frequency in cows. Because POSILAC is designed to increase milk production in cows, it, of course, leads to increased occurrences of mastitis. However, Monsanto argues that this is not a result of the drug itself, but just because of the increased milk production. They claim that it is the fault of the farmer and conditions under which they raise the cow, if the cow experiences mastitis. As such they have developed protocols for farmers to follow to reduce mastitis occurrence. It seems that Monsanto is using skewed logic in this analysis. They are essentially claiming that the cow experiences mastitis as a result of increased milk production and less than ideal conditions, ignoring the fact that their product is responsible for increased milk production.

    Once again, the research that Monsanto selects to support their analysis exhibits peculiar qualities. Of the forty-two sources used in the section on Animal Health portion of their website, the most recent is from 1994 and most are from the 1980s. Monsanto researchers completed some of the studies and many researchers co-authored more than two of the articles. Once again, Monsanto appears to be ignoring the research that is counter to the findings of their collective studies and favoring those of an outdated select group. Even worse, however, is their use of twisted logic in acknowledging the severe health effects their product has on dairy cows. It is discouraging that this product has been declared ‘safe’ for animals despite known effects.

Citizen Organizations

Citizen science organizations like the Center for Food Safety and the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility often point to the well-established negative consequences of rBGH injections on animal health. In 1999 the European Union refused to approve rBGH products partially because of animal health concerns. The opinion of the European Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare is frequently quoted by citizen science organizations:

BST (rBGH) use causes a substantial increase in levels of foot problems and mastitis and leads to injection site reactions in dairy cows. These conditions, especially the first two, are painful and debilitating, leading to significantly poorer welfare in the treated animals. Therefore from the point of view of animal welfare, including health, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare is of the opinion that BST should not be used in dairy cows. (Bedford, 2000).

While this opinion has been championed by the citizen science organizations, it has been downplayed by Monsanto and the FDA who believe that both Canada and the European Union erroneously interpreted data concerning human health and, therefore, were incorrect in banning rBGH (Cohen, There are twenty-two adverse health effects on cows acknowledged my Monsanto. These are commonly emphasized by Citizen Science organizations, but downplayed by Monsanto and the FDA who appear to view them as too insignificant and manageable to halt the process altogether.

Posilac animal warnings

Figure 11 and 12: Monsantos Animal Health Warnings on Label of Posilac

Posilac Warnings

Cow infected by Mastitits

Figure 13: A cow infected by mastitis

Video 4: Posted by explaining Animal Health concerns and possible FDA/Monsanto conspiracy.

Last updated:  5/9/2008


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