Monsanto's Hidden Hand Encourages Protest
Tillamook, Milk and GMO Hormones
VINCE PATTON / KGW (Portland, OR) 18feb2005
Also see: Tillamook Bans Monsanto Growth Hormone AP 19feb2005
TILLAMOOK, Ore. — A group of angry farmers says the Tillamook creamery has gone too far while a national consumer group says it isn't doing enough.
The growth hormone Posilac, which is manufactured by Monsanto.
As KGW reported Thursday, the Tillamook co-op is banning artificial growth hormones from cows that supply it milk.
The Tillamook creamery wanted to keep the change quiet. It did not want to call attention to its ban on artificial growth hormones in its dairy cows.
And it certainly did not want to draw the ire of the hormone's maker, Monsanto.
But it did.
KGW has learned that behind the scenes, the $4.7 billion per year Monsanto Company is helping to fuel a bitter fight over Tillamook's new no-growth-hormone policy.
Monsanto is the only company in the world that produces the artificial growth hormone, and as Banc One Securities estimates, Monsanto earns $270 million every year on this one product.
The biotech giant lobbied Tillamook farmers last November with a letter that says, "I want you to know that Monsanto is deeply concerned about this situation and the potential impact it will have on your dairy, the creamery and Monsanto. Monsanto will work to ensure that you have a choice about how to run your dairy." It is signed by Consuelo Madere, President, Monsanto Dairy Business.
"I don't think they (Monsanto) want to have their fingerprints on this," says Tillamook Creamery President Jim McMullen, "but they certainly have been sending letters and representatives here inviting them (the farmers) to actively protest the policy."
McMullen was handed a petition this month signed by 16 dairy farmers. It forces a Co-Op-wide meeting to try to overrule the no-hormone policy.
Twenty-two consumer groups including the Physicians for Social Responsibility have endorsed a ban on artificial growth hormones in dairy cows. They cite studies that indicate treated cows produce milk with an increased second hormone, IGF-1, a hormone which some studies have associated with cancer in humans.
Rick North, director of Oregon's safe food campaign for Physicians for Social Responsibility says, "We don't have 100% proof. But there is a lot of scientific data that gives us great cause for concern."
The Food & Drug Administration has reviewed those studies as recently as the year 2000 and says there is no health impact from the milk of treated cows and that milk is the same from artificial hormone-treated cows and un-treated cows.
Monsanto Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Garrett "Monsanto is not involved in instigating a petition. We are disappointed in the Tillamook decision. The farmers should have a choice."
But a few of those angry farmers say they got plenty of help on that petition from Monsanto. Two of its representatives came to Tillamook County accompanied by lawyer James Miller from Monsanto's law firm, King & Spalding in Washington DC.
Neither Monsanto nor the farmers say they paid the lawyer. Miller did not return calls for comment.
The farmers say Miller drafted and then hand delivered the petition for them to Tillamook.
Tillamook President Jim McMullen says, "With any controversial policy there's a debate. It just doesn't help when there's interference."
The petition goes farther than simply reversing the ban on artificial growth hormone. It forces a vote of all of Tillamook's member dairies to forever prohibit the Tillamook Creamery board from ever regulating any FDA approved pharmaceutical.
While Tillamook says it is banning the artificial hormones because consumers want it, it has no plans to actively tell consumers about the change.
It could boast of the move on its labels, but decided not to.
"We didn't want this to be a public issue," says McMullen, "and we didn't want this to become a national issue and we didn't want to be the target of the labeling issue."
When McMullen uses the word "target" it means Tillamook did not want to be sued by Monsanto.
Two years ago Monsanto sued Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Maine when it added a bold logo to its milk: Our Farmers Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones Used.
At the time Oakhurst President Stan Bennett said, "All we're doing is what we think we have the right to do and that is let our consumers know what's in their milk and what's not in their milk. We have a right to do that. We have an obligation."
Monsanto's lawsuit called Oakhurst's label misleading. It said the label implied that milk from cows not injected with artificial hormones is safer.
The dairy settled the suit by agreeing to add some fine print saying, "FDA has found no significant difference between milk derived from rBST treated and non rBST treated cows." rBST is the scientific acronym for the artificial growth hormone.
Consumer groups are glad Tillamook is dropping the synthetic hormones.
"We think congratulations are in order," says Rick North, with Physicians for Social Responsibility.
But he's disappointed Tillamook's labels will not reflect the change.
North says, "We think the public has a right to know."
Only consumers who contact Tillamook directly and ask will be told about the creamery's new policy. McMullen says, "We'll tell them the change. We just didn't want to add to the confusion that's out there about this issue."
Meanwhile the farmers fighting back do not consider the new policy a done deal. Some do not even use the artificial hormones but want to preserve the choice to use them.
The vote of all member dairies will come in the next few weeks.