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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

Where is the Discussion of Values?

As seen from the above examples, science can be twisted, reinterpreted and used selectively in environmental controversies. Monsanto and the citizen science organizations are all at fault of being too selective and biased in their interpretations of the body of science available. They have chosen the majority of research from a selective pool of supportive scientists and organizations. This is to the detriment of the scientific process and greater questions in our society. It distracts from the real issues at play. In lieu of having a serious discussion of the impacts of biotechnology on our society and our values in the public realm, Monsanto and citizen organizations are currently accusing the other of contriving scientific results in their favor. 

    This debate, however, is not about the viability of some scientific results over others, although some research is definitely more credible than others and should be examined. This debate is really about our country’s values regarding economics versus animal health, biotechnology and our acceptance of scientific uncertainty. The role of science in this controversy is only a distraction from these deeper questions. It is a well-established fact that rBGH is profitable for farmers who use it according to the guidelines. They procure more milk per cow. It is also established that POSILAC can be a detriment to a cow’s well being. Instead of distorting and twisting either statistic, we should be discussing our interest in economic success against animal health. We should be discussing our comfort level with biotechnology and manipulating the hormone levels of animals to our own profit. These are questions that should not be broken down into economic terms and scientific research, but should be discussed within the realm of ethics within our society. Some citizen organizations are obviously taking ethic statements about the treatment of animals, like PETA, but these voices have been marginalized in the greater debate over the scientific results.

    Our comfort with scientific uncertainty against potential profit should also be debated in detail. What level of scientific uncertainty are we willing to assume and for what level of benefit? The human health effects of milk from rBGH-injected cows are hotly debated and to this point inconclusive. Until more conclusive results are established, we should be debating risks and if the applications of the precautionary principle is acceptable in this circumstance. Once again, what level of economic gain outweighs potential risks to human health and how do we weight this compared to animal health concerns? Certain citizen science organizations like the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility are already weighing in on this question of scientific uncertainty, expressing a desire to be safe rather than sorry, as seen in the video on the Human Health section of the website. Monsanto, on the other hand, seems to take a different position on the aspect of scientific uncertainty. Unless a product is clearly proven to be detrimental to human health, it is acceptable for them to continue marketing the product. This also seems to be the position of the FDA. Unless we can clearly prove something to be dangerous, rather than establish doubts about its safety, the product should be allowed for the market.

    A third area of values worthy of discussion surrounds the use of biotechnology in our society. We have often heard discussions surrounding the use of biotechnology as relates to humans, particularly when it comes to genetic engineering and the prospects of cloning. However, the use of biotechnology in the realm of agriculture is widespread, yet not frequently discussed. Americans are often surprised to find that they regularly consume genetically engineered products. This should be an open topic of discussion in our society. We should be debating whether or not we are comfortably manipulation the hormone levels of a cow for our own benefit. Once we answer that question, only then can the science relating to an increase in hormone levels can become applicable.

black cow

monsanto log


ranging cows

Last updated:  5/9/2008


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