Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson
The fight over rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) continues, even under new ownership.
After acquiring rbGH from Monsanto, Elanco (part of Eli Lilly) has stepped up efforts to convince milk processors and the wider food industry that milk from rbGH-injected cows is safe. Central to their new campaign is a paper, commissioned through PR company Porter-Novelli, from eight prominent experts and academics in medicine and dairy science (Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST): a safety assessment).
The authors are Richard Raymond, former undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA, Connie Bales of Duke University Medical Centre, Dale Bauman of Cornell University, David Clemmons of the University of North Carolina, Ronald Kleinman of Harvard Medical school, Dante Lanna of the University of Sao Paolo, Stephen Nickerson of the University of Georgia, and Kristen Sejrsen of Aarhus University, Denmark. The new paper was not peer-reviewed but it was presented at the July 2009 joint annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association, the Canadian Society of Animal Science and the American Society of Animal Science in Montreal, Canada. It argues strongly for the benefits and safety of rbGH milk and has been widely distributed by Elanco. According to a rebuttal circulated by a number of consumer advocacy organisations, however, the paper misrepresents the position of various medical bodies (1).
The paper claims, for instance, that the safety of rbGH is endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA). Through their Campaign for Safe Food, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (Oregon PSR), has pointed out that the AMA has no policy on rbGH and offers no such endorsement. Instead, they note the April 2008 AMA newsletter cites past president Ron Davis saying “Hospitals should……use milk produced without recombinant bovine growth hormone”.
The new paper also claims the same endorsement from the American Cancer Society (ACS). This claim, Oregon PSR points out, is contradicted on the ACS’s own website and this was confirmed by the ACS in an email to the Bioscience Resource Project: “The American Cancer Society (ACS) has no formal position regarding rBGH.” stated the email. Another endorsement claimed by the paper is from the American Association of Pediatrics, a claim also disputed by the coalition. “I can confirm that AAP does not endorse the safety of rbGH” wrote an AAP spokesperson to the the Bioscience Resource Project, also in an email.
The Bioscience Resource Project contacted various of the authors for clarification. One, Professor of Lactation Physiology Stephen Nickerson was unaware of any errors. Second author and Dietitian Connie Bales declined to answer questions via email or on the telephone. David Clemmons, however, accepted that the AMA, the AAP and the ACS endorsements were “technically untrue”. “We counted endorsement as failure to oppose rbGH”, he said. Lead author Richard Raymond, however, in a written statement to the Bioscience Resource Project said the authors stood by all the endorsements excepting that of the AAP. In the same statement he also clarified the papers’ assertion that 17 other “leading health organisations in the United States” also endorse “Its safety for human consumption”. Asked to identify the organisations, his list included the American Council on Science and Health, the International Food Information Council and the “White House”.
According to Rick North of Oregon PSR “Elanco’s numerous false statements and misrepresentations on endorsing organizations are only the tip of the iceberg. The entire report is riddled with similar inaccurate, misleading claims about rBGH itself.”
Dr Raymond declined to say whether the authors planned to issue a public clarification. Author Kristen Sejrsen, on the other hand remained unconcerned. “It’s only a scientific paper”, he said.
(1) The groups are: The Cancer Prevention Coalition, Consumers Union, Oregon PSR and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy