The Mystery in Your Milk
by Jane Akre and Steve Wilson

Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, a respected reporting team at WTTV, a Fox Network station in Tampa, Florida, were fired from their jobs after refusing to broadcast what they knew and documented to be false and distorted information about Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (BGH)--a genetically engineered product that has been linked to the proliferation of breast, prostate and colon cancer cells in humans.

On August 28, 2000, a Florida jury unanimously decided that Akre had been fired for threatening to blow the whistle on Fox for pressuring her and Wilson to broadcast a false, distorted and slanted news report and awarded her $425,000 for lost wages and damages. Fox is appealing.

This is the first time that the script that got the reporters in trouble has appeared in print. This important document has been edited for length but not censored. For the full version, go to their website.

Reporters' Version--Part I

"Nature's most nearly perfect food"--that's how most of us have always thought of milk …wholesome, nutritious and pure just like it says on some of the trucks that deliver it.

But down on the farm where most of us never see? Some Florida farmers have been quietly squeezing more cash from their cows by injecting them with an artificial growth hormone so they'll produce more milk than nature intended.

Thurman Hatten, Florida Dairy Farmer: "Yes I would say, people in Florida are using it. (Reporter Jane Akre) And you yourself! (Hatten) Ahh…

Narration: Hatten is one of many Florida dairymen reluctant to admit that they're injecting their cows every two weeks...

Hatten continues: "…its possible I could be using it."

Narration: The drug some Florida farmers don't want you to know they're using is a Monsanto laboratory version of bovine growth hormone known as BGH.

Here's how it works: when the cow gets injected with extra BGH, it stimulates the production of another hormone called IGF-1. That's really the stuff that speeds up the cow's metabolism, causing her to produce up to 30 percent more milk.

But some scientists like Dr. Samuel Epstein are warning what might he good for the farmers` bottom line might be big trouble down the line for people drinking the milk from treated cows.

Samuel Epstein, Scientist, University of Illinois: "…there are highly suggestive if not persuasive lines of evidence showing that consumption of this milk poses risks of breast and colon cancer."

Narration: Dr. Epstein is a scientist at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. He's earned three medical degrees, written eight books, and is frequently called upon to advise Congress about things in our environment which may cause cancer. He and others like Dr. William von Meyer point to what they say is a growing body of scientific evidence of a link between IGF-1 and human cancers which might not show up for years to come.

William von Meyer, Research scientist: "We're going to save some lives if we review this now. If we allow BGH to go on, I'm sure we're taking excessive risks with society."

Narration: Dr. Von Meyer has spent 30 years studying chemical products and testing their effects on humans. He's supervised many such tests on thousands of animals at schools such as the University of London and UCLA. He's headed agricultural, chemical and genetic research at some of America's most prestigious companies.

Monsanto is the giant chemical company which sells the synthetic hormone under the brand name Posilac...and Monsanto has consistently rejected the concerns of scientists around the world.

Dr. Robert Collier, Chief Monsanto BGH Scientist: "In fact, the FDA has commented several times on this issue after there were concerns raised. They have publicly restated human safety confidence...this is not something knowledgeable people have concerns about."

Narration: While other companies have dropped by the wayside, Monsanto has invested a mountain of money into Bovine Growth Hormone. Company sales tapes encourage farmers to use it as a tool to milk more profits out of every cow.

Video Clip of Monsanto sales tape: "Of course you'll want to inject Posilac into every eligible cow, as each cow not treated is a lost income opportunity."

Narration: A number of critics, including at least one state agriculture commissioner, have called it "crack for cows" for the way it speeds up the cow's milk production...but despite its promise of profit, some dairymen say the product doesn't always lead to happy trails for the cows or for those who tend them.

Charles Knight, Florida Dairy Farmer: "It's a tool that can be used, but you better be careful, 'cause it can burn you...."

Narration: Near Wachula, Charles Knight won't use Monsanto's synthetic BGH anymore. He is one of many farmers who say they've watched Posilac burn their cows out sooner, shortening their lives by maybe two years.

Knight says he had to replace 75 percent of his herd due to hoof problems and serious udder infections. Those are two of more than 20 potential troubles listed right on the product warning label. But apart from potential suffering for the animals, the major concern is how the hormone injected into the cow changes the milk that ends up on our tables.

Robert Collier: "…this is the most studied molecule certainly in the history of domestic animal science."

Narration: While that claim may be open to dispute, Monsanto…did put the product through a decade's worth of testing before it was approved by the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine as an animal drug. But that's part of the problem, according to many scientists who say since BGH alters the milk we drink, it should meet the higher safety standards required of human drugs. The critics say tests on BGH milk that could have answered these concerns about long-term risk to humans were just never done.

Dr. William von Meyer, Research Scientist: "A human drug requires two years of carcinogenic testing and extensive birth-defect testing. BGH was tested for 90 days on 30 rats at any dose before it was approved."

Robert Collier: "But suffice it to say the cancer experts don't see the health issue and it's unfortunate the public is being scared by an issue that shouldn't be of concern.

Narration: Monsanto's dairy research director points to what the FDA has repeatedly said since the day it approved BGH back in 1993: "The public can be confident that milk and meat from BGH-treated cows is safe to consume."....

Part II

Narration: You won't find Ol' Flossie and Bossie on Fred Gore's dairy farm in Zephyrhills. On Fred's farm, all the cows have numbers instead of names--and they're watched by electronic eyes 24 hours a day.

Farmer Gore, Florida Dairy Farmer: "They help tell me if proper procedures are being followed."

Narration: At a modern dairy farm, cows wear transponders that even tell a computer how much milk she gave today.

Farmer Gore: "She's giving 121 pounds a day."

Narration: In the competitive business of dairy farming these days, productivity is paramount. That's why Fred Gore and others like him were all ears when the giant Monsanto chemical company started promoting its new product called Posilac.

Video Clip from Monsanto sales tape: "Posilac is the single most-tested product in history and it helps increase your profit potential."

Narration: Monsanto promised that Posilac-- a laboratory version of the cow's natural growth hormone--could get Ol' 2356 and her friends to produce up to 30 percent more milk. That was good news to Florida farmers who need all the help they can get in a state where high heat, humidity and little local grain make dairy farming a struggle.

The "promise of Posilac" sounded great to dairyman Charles Knight...but he says it didn't turn out that way.

Charles Knight, Florida Dairy Farmer: "About the same time we began having a lot of foot problems with our cows because they got so crippled they couldn't walk."

Narration: Right after he started using the drug on his herd near Wachula three years ago, Knight says his animals were plagued with those problems and serious infections of his cows' udders. Troubles he attributes to Posilac eventually caused him to replace the majority of his herd. He says when he called dairy experts at the University of Florida and at Monsanto, they both had the same response.

Farmer Knight: "[T]hey said you're the only person having this problem so it must be what you're doing here. You must be having management problems."

Narration: The University of Florida, by the way, did much of the research on BGH and has received millions in gifts and grants from Monsanto. Knight says neither the university nor the company ever mentioned Monsanto research that showed hundreds of other cows on other farms were also suffering hoof problems and mastitis, a painful infection of the cow's udders

If untreated, the infection can get into the cow's milk so farmers try to cure it by giving the cow shots of antibiotics...more drugs that can find their way into the milk on your table, which could make your own body more resistant to antibiotics.

Dr. Michael Hanson, Consumers Union Scientist: "In fact, there is over 60 drugs that they believe can be used on farms and they test for a very small percentage of them."

File Video of protesters chanting: "Boycott BGH. Boycott BGH..."

Collier: "There are no human or animal safety issues that would prevent approval in Canada once they've completed their review, not that I'm aware of."

Narration: But long-term human safety is exactly the concern expressed by a Canadian House committee on health. Here are the minutes of a 1995 meeting where members voted to ask Canada's Health Minister to try and keep BGH off the market for at least two more years. Why? "...to allow members of Parliament to further examine the human health implications" of the drug.

It's still not legal to sell the unlicensed product north of the border, despite the company's efforts to gain the approval of government regulators.

Narration: In the Fall of 1994, Canadian television quoted a Canadian health official as reporting Monsanto offered $1-2 million if her government committee would recommend BGH approval in Canada without further data or studies of the drug. Another member of her committee who was present when Monsanto made the offer was asked: "Was that a bribe?"

File Video Clip of CBC documentary--CBC Correspondent to committee member: "Is that how it struck you? (Dr. Edwards) Certainly!"

Reporter Jane Akre on camera: "Monsanto said the report alleging bribery was "a blatant untruth," that Canadian regulators just didn't understand the offer of the money was for research. Monsanto demanded a retraction. The Canadian Broadcasting Company stands by its story...."

Hansen: "Monsanto has a very checkered history with some of its other products..."

Narration: Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union is another American scientist still very skeptical about BGH. He says Monsanto was wrong years ago when it convinced the government PCB's were safe. Those were put inside electrical conductors for years...until researchers in Japan and Sweden showed serious hazards to human health and the environment.

And you've heard of Agent Orange, 2-4-5-T, the defoliant used in Vietnam? Monsanto convinced the government it, too, was safe. It was later proven to be extremely harmful to humans...and a government investigator found what she said was "a clear pattern of fraudulent content in Monsanto's research" which led to approval.

In the case of BGH, Monsanto was required to promptly report all complaints from farmers. Florida dairyman Charles Knight says he was complaining loud and clear that Posilac was decimating his herd...but four months later he found the company had not passed one of his complaints to the FDA as required.

Charles Knight, Florida Dairyman: "...so how many more hundreds of complaints out there sat and were not registered with FDA?"

Narration: Monsanto admits a long delay in reporting Knight's complaints. A company spokesman claims despite a series of on-farm visits and telephone conversations with Knight, it took four months for them to understand he was complaining about BGH. As for those safety claims for previous Monsanto products that turned out to be dangerous, the company offered no comment.

Part III

Narration: Whether you know it or not, by the time it's bottled, chances are milk from treated cows ends up in the jug you carry home. It's made the milk on your table one of the first genetically engineered foods ever to be fed to your family... and the population at large.

Jeff LeMaster, Consumer/Dad: "And for her, now that she's eating people food, we want to give her as much good stuff without the chemical additives as possible."

Narration: Grocers and the dairy industry know synthetic BGH in milk worries consumers like Jeff and Janet LeMaster. A whopping 74 percent of those questioned in this University of Wisconsin study released just last year expressed concern about unknown harmful human health effects which might show up later.

Robert Collier, Chief Monsanto BGH Scientist: "What they need to know is that the milk hasn't changed...."

Narration: That's the assurance of Monsanto….It's the company position, despite scientific studies which show the milk we're getting from BGH-treated cows has a higher level of something called IGF-1, a hormone believed to promote cancer.

Narration: Government regulators in Canada, New Zealand and all of Europe have expressed similar concerns and refused to license the drug for sale in all those countries.

File Video, consumer protesters chanting: "Boycott BGH!..."

Narration: So three years ago when the drug was approved in America and protesters started dumping milk that contained the synthetic hormone, your grocer and your milkman decided something had to be done to protect sales.

Riley Hogan, Tampa Dairy Co-op: "For good business reasons, Publix [a marketing chain] and I both wanted to avoid the use of the product until there was public acceptance."

Narration: Maybe you recall these media reports from 1994 when Albertsons reassured Florida consumers "...we will do our utmost to ensure that (people) don't get it" in their milk. Publix issued similar assurances....

The truth is, nobody ever did anything but go through the motions of asking farmers to keep BGH out of the milk supply.... And when we visited seven Central Florida dairy operations chosen at random, how many were heeding the grocers' request? Not a one.

Albertsons acknowledged: "It is widely accepted in the industry that most all dairy farmers now use BGH" ... but "we do not know which or how many dairies use it."....

But not everybody's using it. Ben and Jerry, America's icons of ice cream, don't want anything to do with it... and they're leading the fight to give you a choice at the grocer's dairy case.

Part IV

Ben Cohen, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream: "A big part of the issue is that consumers are well aware that what the FDA said was fine and healthy 10 and 20 years ago, the FDA is saying is really bad for you today ...

Narration: It's one of the big reasons Ben and Jerry, makers of some of America's favorite ice cream, are so opposed to farmers injecting their dairy cows with Bovine Growth Hormone genetically engineered in a Monsanto chemical lab....

Narration: Our investigation has found only one dairy in Florida which produces milk from cows not treated with BGH... and what happened when the folks at the Golden Fleece dairy in Central Florida wanted to label their products as synthetic BGH-free?

Well, first they say Commissioner Crawford's people strongly discouraged it, but what really deterred them was a fear Monsanto--the company which makes the hormone--would come after them in court.

Glen Norton, Golden Fleece Dairy: "From the information I heard and read, I was afraid at some point that if we tried to do extra labeling, that Monsanto could cause damage to my small, fragile business."

Narration: Norton and others like him may have reason to be scared. Right after Monsanto started marketing its BGH three years ago, a number of dairies that didn't use it began to label their products so consumers would know.

Robert Collier: "In fact, there are quite a few co-ops that do just that and we have not opposed that at all."

Narration: But that's not true. Monsanto did file lawsuits against two small dairies, forcing them to stop labeling. Then the company spread the news with follow-up letters to other dairies that apparently saw the writing on the wall...and they also stopped....

The labels on Ben and Jerry's ice cream will soon be different, too... The label will also carry wording that says the FDA has said there is no significant difference between milk from treated and untreated cows--a claim some scientists sharply question. That wording, by the way, was written by Michael Taylor, an attorney who worked for Monsanto both before and after his time as an FDA official.

Some dairy people say Ben and Jerry have jumped on the anti-BGH bandwagon as just a way to sell more of their ice cream.

Ben Cohen: "The tremendous amount of chemicals that's used in conventional agriculture is having a horrible effect on the environment and on the health of our citizens and our customers and you know, (laugh), if you want to say is it our self-interest? Yeah! We want to keep our customers alive. They eat more ice cream when they're alive!"

Narration: As part of an effort to influence these reports, a lawyer hired by Monsanto wrote a Fox television executive saying the discussion of any possible link between the use of synthetic BGH and cancer is "...the most blatant form of scaremongering." In a second letter, he said Monsanto critics are in all probability "scientifically incompetent." He is referring to critics such as Dr. Samuel Fpstein at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. Epstein has three medical degrees, he's the author of eight books, and is frequently called to testify before Congress about the environmental causes of cancer.

Like other BGH critics, Epstein contends it's just wrong to introduce a product into the marketplace when there are so many important and still-unresolved human health questions.

Samuel Epstein, Research Scientist: "We're living in the greatest democracy in the world in many ways but in other ways we're in a corporate dictatorship in which big government and big industry decide what information the consumer can and should have and it's the objective of me and the Cancer Prevention Coalition to assure that this information be made available and let the public decide...and let grassroot citizens take over where government and industry has failed."

The Mystery in Your Milk (Censored Version)

As Mandated by Fox 13 Management/Legal Counsel

Script 1, Version 28. This script version, produced at the direction of Fox 13 Management and their counsel, includes changes mandated by them. Reporters' continuing objections are noted in italics. [The following are excerpted from the complete script and revisions, which may be read at their website]

Part I,Version28

Samule Epstein, Scientist, University of Illinois: …there are highly suggestive if not persuasive lines of evidence showing that consumption of this milk poses risks of breast and colon cancer."

Reporters have been instructed not to include information that details the basis for this frightening claim, leaving viewers…to just shrug it off as another unfounded "cancer scare."

Narration 4: Dr. Samuel Epstein, a scientist at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, is an expert on the environmental causes of cancer...Reporters were repeatedly instructed to remove information that more completely detailed Dr. Epstein's widely acknowledged expertise…

Original references to him as a "reputable scientist" which was acceptable in Versions 1-3, was later changed to "respected scientist" which was acceptable in Version 11, and then "well-credentialed M.D." which was okay in Versions 10-18 until, ultimately, reporters were told no such reference acceptable, making him sound like a run-of-the-mill academic with no specific or relevant expertise.

William Von Meyer, Scientist: "If we allow BGH to go on, I'm sure we're taking excessive risks with society."

Reporters were instructed to edit Dr. Von Meyer's quote to the extent that the viewer is deprived of the full thrust of his true position and meaning.

... [R]eporters were pressured to remove any reference to Dr. Von Meyer's qualifications to question the safety of the product, while being instructed to report Monsanto's contention that "...the cancer experts don't see the health issue...."

Reporters were blocked from including the facts that Dr. Von Meyer has spent 30 years studying chemical products and testing their effects on humans....Ultimately, reporters were instructed to broadcast a version which reduces Dr. Von Meyer to..."a scientist in Wisconsin. "

Narration 7: Critics including the Massachusetts state agriculture commissioner in 1989 have called it "crack for cows."

Reporters were repeatedly told this colorful phrase could not be used in a broadcast on Fox Channel 13 to avoid needlessly antagonizing a possible plaintiff Monsanto. ..., [R]eporters persisted by showing evidence of its use by other responsible newspapers such as The Boston Globe, St. Louis Post Dispatch, TIME Magazine, and 11 other publications.

Only after reporters located a report of the statement being made by a public official was it allowed to be included. And even then, as a further effort to discourage broadcast of the phrase, reporters were instructed it could not be used unless and until the now-former official was tracked down, confirmed that the eight-year-old quote was accurate, and that he still felt that way today! Reporters located the man, now with the USDA in Washington, and obtained the required confirmations.

Robert Collier, Monsanto Scientist: "...this is the most studied molecule certainly in the history of domestic animal science."

Despite intense scrutiny of every claim made by those opposing the Monsanto product reporters were required to include this and other company claims without documentation of accuracy. Experts in the field of domestic animal science say this claim is demonstrably false.

Throughout the process of preparing the various versions of this report, reporters were repeatedly instructed to include unverified and even some outright false statements by Monsanto's dairy research director whose doctorate degree is in Dairy Research.

Reporters were also required to exhaustively research the backgrounds of those raising questions about the Monsanto product while no similar efforts were required to ascertain the expertise of Monsanto Company experts who reporters know to have fewer credentials than some critics.

The reporters' research uncovered several studies, including one frequently cited by Monsanto, which indicate the milk is indeed different. Several have shown levels of the suspected cancer link IGF-I is significantly higher in milk from treated cows, up to 20 times higher according to one study.... Fox has directed reporters "neutralize" these key facts by reporting that studies show the milk is "affected," as opposed to "altered."

... Even after reporters provided textbook documentation that animal testing should last two full years to assure human safety from long-term carcinogenicity, this important issue was not allowed to be included in the report.... [R]eporters were instructed never to characterize BGH testing as "short-term" nor allow any critic to do so.

Robert Collier, Monsanto Scientist: "But suffice it to say the cancer experts don't see the health issue and it's unfortunate the public is being scared by an issue that shouldn't be of concern."

Reporters were instructed to include this claim without contradiction despite the knowledge by all that it is flatly, demonstrably false.

During a May 27th phone conference, counsel told reporters: "I want you to do exactly as I said. The FDA review says it's safe for humans. I just want a statement. That's what I want for balance."

Part II, Version 6

Narration 9:... Outside the US, officials in other countries also remain skeptical about Monsanto's product. In Canada, for instance, the product has not been approved for sale, due in large part to official uncertainty about its human health implications, a concern Monsanto downplayed to us.

The potential long-term human health effects is the bottom line to the series as a whole. The important concern this series investigates is the suspected link between long-term human consumption of BGH milk and the potential development of cancer. Nevertheless, reporters were repeatedly instructed to camouflage concerns about cancer by not using the word in any script after an initial reference in Part I and substituting "human health implications" as a euphemism.

Narration 10: For more than three years now, Monsanto has fought an uphill battle to get Canadian government approval, it is still not legal to sell the unlicensed product north of the border.

In letters to Fox management, Monsanto has insisted upon characterizing as a "voluntary moratorium" the fact that BCH cannot be legally sold in Canada because government regulators have refused to approve it. Reporters contended there is nothing voluntary about not selling BGH in Canada because all unapproved drugs are banned. Reporters even provided evidence that Canadian border agents have confiscated BGH as a banned substance. Nonetheless, reporters were instructed to minimize the significance of Canadian non-approval by simply reporting "an uphill battle to get Canadian government approval"....

Narration 13: ... Monsanto provided no response to our inquiry about its past record of making safety claims for other products.

... Monsanto later confirmed that the company failed to make reports to government officials about adverse BGH reactions in cattle. Those reports were required as part of the research which led to US government monitoring.

The reporters' investigation also uncovered an EPA investigative report that concluded Monsanto showed "a clear pattern of fraudulent content" in the research that led to approval of its product Dioxin years ago.

Reporters were instructed to ignore the company's previous withholding of scientific data... for fear of appearing to be "building a case against Monsanto." .... Reporters were told if not winnable at summary judgment, the facts were not reportable on Fox 13: "The point you (reporters) don't get is it's not whether the facts are true, it's the way we present them. Summary judgment is my standard; those are my marching orders," reporters were told. I don't decide what goes on the air, (General Manager) Dave Boylan does and he wanted this one to go away," counsel claimed.

Part III, Version 7

Narration 4:...and government regulators in Canada, New Zealand and all of Europe who have refused to license the drug for sale.

Although reporters are allowed to report the drug has been banned by officials of other countries, they are not allowed to state why. Again, any direct reference to the feared link between BGH milk and long-term cancer risk is ordered out of the body of the report when Fox counsel says, "I'm going to throw my weight around and tell you what to do."

Part IV, Version 9

Robert Collier: "In fact, there are quite a few co-ops that do just that [began to label their products] and we have not opposed that at all."

Reporters were directed to minimize clear and documented evidence this statement is false.

Narration 8: ...The label will also carry wording that the FDA has said there is no significant difference between milk from treated and untreated cows, a claim some scientists sharply question.

Reporters originally wrote: "Some respected scientists cite recent studies which suggest injecting cows with BGH leads to milk with higher levels of a substance believed to promote cancer. " Again, reporters have been blocked from any effort to inform viewers of the basis of this concern about BGH.

© Earth Island Journal, Summer 2001

 

Archives