How to Force More Drug Ill-Effects on Billions of People and Make Tons of Money
National Health Federation President, Scott Tips, argues against rBGH at the Codex Alimentarius Commission in Geneva.
Most people would not think of Geneva, Switzerland as an uncomfortably hot city. But each and every time I’ve been here, it has been. The city was so hot this most recent trip that I actually saw two trees fighting over a dog.
Still, the reason for braving the heat here was a good and necessary one: The 38th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission was being held this week of July 6-11, 2015 and one of the most important items to be debated on its agenda was the adoption of a Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST).
It might sound inconsequential, but it isn’t. As I have mentioned before, obtaining an MRL at Codex for rBGH is the marketing equivalent of a drug company being handed the “Keys to the City.” It is a license to sell the vet drug throughout the Codex member-state world, with World Trade Organization (WTO) sanction power behind it. Many Codex members and member states—such as the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, India, Russia, and China—have banned this genetically modified veterinary drug’s use on animals under a very sensible health policy that prohibits drug use on animals for anything other than therapeutic purposes. The vet drug rBGH, injected into cows, is not therapeutic; it is used to increase milk production. Yet, if an MRL is approved at Codex, then the Europeans and many others would be faced with a dilemma: Acquiesce to its introduction into their food supply or else pay heavy trade sanctions imposed upon them by the WTO.
Scott Tips arguing against rBGH, as shown on the Codex big screen July 8, 2015
Industry Science Supposedly Says rBGH is Safe
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has conducted three safety reviews of rBGH and its representative keeps insisting to the Codex delegates that these safety reviews have shown the veterinary drug to be safe, with no noticed increase in mastitis (udder infections) or antimicrobial residues from rBGH use. The JECFA representative at this meeting took the same position as she had expressed at the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods held in Costa Rica last April, that JECFA’s “systematic review of the literature published since the 50th JECFA  did not find any significant difference in the incidence of mastitis … [nor] specific studies correlating the use of rbST with the development of antimicrobial resistance.”
Pro-rBGH delegates at the current meeting were not shy about repeatedly pointing out that this was JECFA’s third review of rBGH for safety. How could anyone, they hypnotically demanded time and again, possibly have an issue with three JECFA reviews that found no safety concerns for rBGH? And besides, they added, since this Codex standard has been on hold for fifteen years, we would be harming Codex’s credibility were we to turn our backs on JECFA science and refuse to adopt the MRLs for rBGH that JECFA assures us are safe.
Every Western Hemispheric country but Canada (which had to sit silently on its hands since Health Canada had declared rBGH unsafe) was in favor of adopting this MRL. Most African countries and many Asian countries declared the same, along with every two-bit Pacific or Caribbean island that the U.S. could fly in so as to add weight to the clamor for adoption.
So, What’s the Problem?
Only that the Codex delegates representing more than half of the World’s population do not believe that the JECFA risk assessment was either sound or scientific. Indeed, many thought the risk assessment was very political and industry-influenced. The NHF had also strongly argued at the previous meeting that JECFA had overlooked negative study results from the industry itself, and even the product warning labeling for Monsanto’s rBGH product (Posilac), which cautions users about a possible increase in mastitis in cows injected with Posilac.
Curiously enough, during its own first two reviews, JECFA had specifically excluded any consideration of mastitis issues, claiming that these safety problems were outside the scope of the JECFA review. So, contrary to pro-rBGH claims, there had not really been three JECFA reviews of all the issues.
My fellow NHF delegate, Robert Cohen – an expert on rBGH and its many dangers – argued that the goalposts for antibiotic use to treat mastitis had been moved so dramatically as to render them almost useless as a measure of antibiotic harm. It turns out, Cohen says, that FDA employee Dr. Margaret Miller (formerly with Monsanto) arbitrarily raised FDA’s allowable antimicrobial level 100 times from one part per hundred-million to one part per million. This has allowed more antibiotics to be passed along to humans in cow’s milk, with a resulting increase in antimicrobial resistance (i.e., pathogens resistant to antibiotic use by humans to kill those bad bugs).
In addition, Cohen pointed out that a herd of Holstein cows injected with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone presented extremely shocking results upon autopsy, which the FDA and Monsanto did not make public. It was only upon publication in a dairy magazine that consumers learned that rBGH-injected cows lost an average of 100 pounds after six months, but that their hearts and spleens and other stressed organs had grown abnormally large.
NHF delegate Robert Cohen & NHF Delegation Head Scott Tips
Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers International (CI) was at this meeting and argued, among other things, that studies have shown that: (1) rBGH use significantly increases mastitis rates; and (2) the average length of treatment for a case of mastitis is almost six times longer in the rBGH-treated cows compared to untreated cows.
Because some dairy farmers deliberately use off-label and other antibiotics that are not tested for by the government and use them for longer periods of time, antibiotic use in cows is far greater than reported by the government or industry. Given that rBGH-injected cows need more antibiotics to cope with their greater health problems, such hidden use is not surprising. If the milk coming from these dairy farms exceeds even the lax antibiotic levels permitted by the FDA, then the dairy farmers face huge economic losses as their milk is rejected for sale. Unfortunately, though, the bottom-line is that rBGH-injected cows have more health issues, which in turn results in more antibiotic use, which in turn results in humans developing antimicrobial resistance (AMR, as Codex puts it) to harmful pathogens.
Yet, despite this and an enormous amount of other evidence out there, JECFA and its worshippers at Codex continue to insist that rBGH is safe. With AMR, JECFA has even twisted the lack of data on AMR into a conclusion that AMR is not an issue with rBGH use! As every true scientist knows, an absence of data means scientists wait to draw conclusions until they have the data.
Too, we suspect that JECFA’s expert body on AMR may not be as disinterested as they should be in making their risk assessments of rBGH. An NHF investigator found that one of the Codex Antimicrobial experts, Y. Tamara, was working for Mead Johnson’s GMO division in 2004 where he obtained a U.S. patent for a GMO grain.
The truth is that alarm bells are ringing everywhere, and have been for decades, about the dangers of this non-medical drug use on animals; and, yet, our supposed scientific authorities sit there and act as if nothing is wrong at all. Others, conditioned to blindly accept “scientific” pronouncements no matter how badly based, shore up these rickety pronouncements with their unthinking support. If JECFA were truly doing its job, then it would be ruthless about tracking down each and every hint of evidence that rBGH poses a human and animal health problem. But, sadly enough, JECFA’s reviews were third rate.
The Codex Dog-and-Pony Show
It happens every time. It happened with ractopamine, GMO labeling, melamine, and now rBGH. The countries and trade groups that want to make money off of some drug or food product will present their “science” showing how incredibly safe it is and how we would all be idiots if we didn’t accept the product immediately. It is then up to us to show that they are wrong and that the science indeed shows health risks. If they are able to snag JECFA on their side, then they will also argue that Codex must not insult Codex and appear stupid for not following its own body’s scientific risk assessment. The arguments go back and forth until one side wins.
The problem, though, is that Codex-system inertia and bias is on the side of any proposed standard. “We need this standard,” the Burkina Faso delegate said about rBGH. “We will lose our credibility [look stupid] if we do not pass a standard,” Brazil chimed in. Many others agreed. Typically, the countries and industries pushing the standard only think in one direction: Push the standard forward to completion. As I argued at the meeting, they are like drivers who have taken a wrong turn and are now claiming that the only way out is forward, not a retracement of the route, otherwise the driver will “look stupid.” No, as we all know, the driver will look stupid if he or she continues forward on the wrong path, just as with this rBGH standard.
Scott Tips, JD is a California-licensed attorney, legal columnist and president and general counsel for the National Health Federation. He specializes in food-and-drug law and trademark law, but also engages in business litigation, general business law, and nonprofit organizations, with an international clientele.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
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