Oregon dairy farmers reaffirmed their intention to keep a bovine growth hormone off their cheese plate, much to the chagrin of the drug’s manufacturer, bioengineering giant Monsanto.
On Feb. 28, farmers in the Tillamook County
Creamery Association, the second-largest producer of natural chunk
cheese in the United States, voted 83 to 43 to uphold a ban on the
use of Posilac, an artificial growth hormone also known as rBST and
rBGH. The drug, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
in 1993, boosts milk production by 5 to 15 percent.
May, the association’s board decided to ban the use of
Posilac, prompted by growing consumer concerns over its effects on
the health of cows, the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
in milk, and the possibility that the hormone may cause cancer in
Monsanto reacted quickly, sending officials to
Oregon to ask the association to drop the ban. According to
Christie Lincoln, an association spokesperson, in January, 16
farmers petitioned to amend the association’s bylaws to
prohibit it from banning FDA-approved drugs like Posilac.
Some farmers suggest that the biotech giant helped draft the
proposed amendment. "Their lawyer walked in with the bylaw change,"
says Richard Heathershaw, who stopped using the hormone on his 200
cows more than two years ago. But the February vote rejected the
amendment, upholding the board’s original Posilac ban, which
takes effect April 1.
"We hope that in time Tillamook
producers will reconsider this policy," Monsanto Co. wrote in a
response. According to Jennifer Garrett, public affairs director
for Monsanto’s dairy business, one-third of the
nation’s nine million dairy cows receive Posilac.
In recent years, Monsanto has sued dairies, such as the Oakhurst
Dairy in Maine, for labeling their products "rBGH-free." The
company claims there is no discernible difference in the milk.
Tillamook, however, is not planning to change its labels.