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skeptical queries on environmental issues
Posted: 31 October 2007 10:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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mckenzievmd - 31 October 2007 09:50 PM

As far as the ethics of Monsanto, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re as guilty as many large companies of putting profit before safety. But that has nothing to do with the actual safety of the products we’re talking about. The BGH scare is BS. The product has been extensively investigated by public health organizations in the U.S. and abroad and the scare-mongering about it is not driven by any reliable science.

The warning label on Monsanto’s Posilac explicitly states, “Cows injected with Posilac are at increased risk for clinical mastitis.”[6]
http://www.awionline.org/pubs/Quarterly/Summer2000/rBGH.htm

The EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) was asked to report on the incidence of mastitis and other disorders in dairy cows and on other aspects of the welfare of dairy cows.[7]
http://www.monsantodairy.com/about/human_safety/ifst_rbst1.html

The Committee stated

“bST (Bovine somatotropin) use substantially increases foot problems, mastitis and injection site reactions in dairy cows. These conditions are painful and debilitating, leading to significantly poorer welfare of the animals. bST also causes reproductive disorders. Therefore, from the point of view of animal welfare and health, this substance should not be used.”
Health Canada, like the SCAHAW, banned rBST because of its effects on cows [8].
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/1999/1999_03_e.html
Health Canada cited this reason for its ban.

“The veterinary experts cited an increased risk of mastitis of up to 25%, of infertility by 18%, and of lameness by up to 50%. These increased risks and overall reduced body condition lead to a 20-25% increased risk of culling from the herd.”

The ban in Europe is related to the cultural anxieties about “un-natural” products, and it is irrational.  So while you may be right that not only public health issues are relevant, you then proceed to cite two public health concerns, the first of which I view as mistaken. (I don’t have any information or position on the second)

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/dairy/bovine-growth-hormone/no-rbgh

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/vet/issues-enjeux/rbst-stbr/rep_rcpsc-rap_crmcc_e.html
In summary, with one exception, the panel finds no biologically plausible reason for concern about human safety if rbST were to be approved for sale in Canada.   The panel recommends, on the basis of present knowledge, that the study in question be repeated.

http://www.ethicalinvesting.com/monsanto/bgh.shtml

http://www.ethicalinvesting.com/monsanto/news/10034.htm

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Posted: 31 October 2007 10:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I concede that there is a statistically significant increase in mastitis risk for the cows which is an ethical issue, but my response was intended to address the second part of your assertion that there is a risk to people who drink the milk. I for one am a vegetarian partly because I dislike the practices of industrial agriculture and consider them inhumane, and frankly I think the risks of BGH pale in comparison to the general conditions of dairy cattle. Most mastitis is due to breeding cows with enormous mammary glands and ridiculous levels of milk production. This, the feeding of high concentrate diets, the housing conditions, ect all contribute to their suffering because this is the most economically efficient way to produce milk. SO you don’t have to convince me that there is an ethical problem, though I don’t consider BGH a major part of that, only a symptom.

But that was not the point I was responding to, and I stand by the assertion that the public health scare is BS. We can play link war if you like, but the EU and Canadian and US health agencies have all investigated the use of rBGH and natural BGH and found no credible evidence of health concerns. None has yet appeared in public health circles despite many years of use in the US. So while it could turn olut that there is some small risk we have yet to uncover, I doubt it and no evidence exists to support banning it on a public health basis.

The general point I am arguing is that decisions about the public health or environmental safety of particular technologies need to be made on the basis of evidence about those specific technologies, not on the basis of a general principle that technological agriculture is toxic. And while we all know that corporate priorities are about corporate profits, that doesn’t negate the fact that these organizations feed most of us, and we in the developed world, with the highest use of such technologies, are currently healthier and longer-lived than ever in human history. Vigorous regulation and testing is appropriate, and caution about use of new technologies on a large scale are appropriate. But I see much less ragtional skepticism in most opposition to such technologies than I see blind irrational fear of what is perceived as “unnatural.”

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Posted: 31 October 2007 10:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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I do remember hearing about rBST in the televised course about food science. FWIW the professor’s take on it was the same as Brennen’s. It can lead to mastitis in a small number of cases. (“Up to 25%” is questionable. Under what circumstances?) But it has been extensively tested and is of no danger to human health.

One has to avoid the knee-jerk reaction that leads some to assume that natural = good, and artificial = bad. It ain’t necessarily so.

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Posted: 01 November 2007 12:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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mckenzievmd - 31 October 2007 10:37 PM

I concede that there is a statistically significant increase in mastitis risk for the cows which is an ethical issue, but my response was intended to address the second part of your assertion that there is a risk to people who drink the milk.

SO you don’t have to convince me that there is an ethical problem, though I don’t consider BGH a major part of that, only a symptom.

Only a symptom? Birth defects are only a symptom of chemical warfare, like agent orange for instance.

But that was not the point I was responding to, and I stand by the assertion that the public health scare is BS.

And what is the evidence for your assertion and the claim of scare mongering?

We can play link war if you like,

It’s evidence war not link war. Corroboration if you like. What good is a claim with no evidence or corroboration? Without that it’s only faith or an opinion.

but the EU and Canadian and US health agencies have all investigated the use of rBGH and natural BGH and found no credible evidence of health concerns. None has yet appeared in public health circles despite many years of use in the US. So while it could turn olut that there is some small risk we have yet to uncover, I doubt it and no evidence exists to support banning it on a public health basis.

What do you make of this?:
http://www.ethicalinvesting.com/monsanto/bgh.shtml
“A recent article (Cancer Research, 55:2463-2469, June 1995) from Renato Baserga’s laboratory in Philadelphia has shown clearly that IGF-1 is required for the establishment and maintenance of tumors. The mechanism for this is that IGF-1 protects the cells from apoptosis (programmed cell death). IGF accelerates tumor growth and appears to affect the aggressiveness of tumors. As the IGF-1 level is decreased, cell death can take place. We are talking about IGF-1 levels of 10 nanogram per m1, i.e., 0.00001 milligram per ml.” But check out that link, there’s more.

There’s more from here as well:
http://www.holisticmed.com/bgh/prostate.html
While warning that increasing IGF-1 blood levels by treating the elderly with growth hormone (GH) to slow aging may increase risks of prostate cancer, the 1998 report appears unaware of the fact that the entire U.S. population is now exposed to high levels of IGF-1 in dairy products. In February 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of unlabelled milk from cows injected with Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH, to increase milk production. As detailed in a January 1996 report in the International Journal of Health Services, rBGH milk differs from natural milk chemically, nutritionally, pharmacologically and immunologically, besides being contaminated with pus and antibiotics resulting from mastitis induced by the biotech hormone.

The general point I am arguing is that decisions about the public health or environmental safety of particular technologies need to be made on the basis of evidence about those specific technologies, not on the basis of a general principle that technological agriculture is toxic.

I’m not making assumptions here as evidenced by the information I am providing.

And while we all know that corporate priorities are about corporate profits, that doesn’t negate the fact that these organizations feed most of us, and we in the developed world, with the highest use of such technologies, are currently healthier and longer-lived than ever in human history.

What’s the evidence for the longevity of humans based on current dietary concerns? Infant mortality, yeah, but many ancients lived well into their 70’s and 80’s and, at the risk of assuming, current U.S. obesity populations far out number those of the ancient world and the rest of the world. I would hazard a guess that the healthiest human today is no more healthier than an ancient Greek Olympian.

Vigorous regulation and testing is appropriate, and caution about use of new technologies on a large scale are appropriate. But I see much less ragtional skepticism in most opposition to such technologies than I see blind irrational fear of what is perceived as “unnatural.”

My axe to grind with Monsanto is not about capitalism nor am I or anyone else indulging in blind irrational fear. Who in the world is afraid of “unnatural”? That’s not what my argument is about. Many things that are “unnatural” are beneficial to humans. Besides, define “unnatural”.

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Posted: 01 November 2007 12:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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dougsmith - 31 October 2007 10:38 PM

I do remember hearing about rBST in the televised course about food science. FWIW the professor’s take on it was the same as Brennen’s. It can lead to mastitis in a small number of cases. (“Up to 25%” is questionable. Under what circumstances?) But it has been extensively tested and is of no danger to human health. One has to avoid the knee-jerk reaction that leads some to assume that natural = good, and artificial = bad. It ain’t necessarily so.

One has to avoid the knee-jerk reaction that I or anyone else is having a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction!
Why am I the only one providing information instead of baseless truth assertions and claims based on faith and opinion?
Faith is irrational…....the corroboration is not…........ as evidenced by my links. At least I get an “A” for effort.

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Posted: 01 November 2007 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Time and again, I run up against the fact that things would be better off if it weren’t for the conservative/libertarian argument that all government regulation is bad.
In this thread it’s been pointed out that genetic modification of crops can actually be good for the environment - reducing the need for pesticides, for instance - if carefully used.
But, wait. Careful use requires control. Control requires regulation. It’s been shown that especially under the current administration, we can’t trust the government to regulate business interests.
The conservatives would say that if farmers object to Monsanto’s engineered seed that they could always buy their seed from someone else.
But could they, if Monsanto is so huge that it can drive out competition? And what’s to stop your neighbor’s Monsanto seed crop from cross-pollinating with yours, turning your crop into non-seed producing?
Regarding milk hormone, I agree that the health scare is crap. But I wonder, why is the hormone necessary? Would we really be not getting enough milk without it? Or is it just so you can make enough milk to be able to sell it cheaper (and thus sell more of it) and still be profitable?
I buy organic milk but I pay a lot more for it.
Not to get off the subject, but I also buy organic bananas and find they taste better and stay fresh longer. What’s up with that?

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Posted: 01 November 2007 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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SkepticDave,

Fine. HERE is the FDA review of the safety of BGH, which concludes the health risks you discuss are not real dangers. HERE is the Health Canada review, which concludes the evidence does not support the conclusion of a public health risk. So what did they then do? Recommend more study and ban the product. Science or politics?
HEREis the European Union commission report, which finally concludes an unknown and undemonstrated but theoretically possible risk of neoplasia secondary to IGF-l levels in the milk. Then they banned it. Any chance this had more to do with cultural suspicion of such technoligies rather than the strength of the evidence? I think so, you undoubtedly disagree.

Anyway, the reason I disparagingly referred to this as link war is that neither of us is going to find that one piece of compelling evidence to change the other’s midn because such evidence rarely exists for complex secondary and tertiary effects of such technologies used in food production. The physiology involved is complex, the research is influenced by politics and money, and ultimately the concatenation of many risk factors are the determinates of most diseases, not one single factor that can be simply and definatively demonstrated. And in my case, I could never prove the risk of rBGH is zero even if it is because such a negative cannot be proven. All I’m arguing is that the evidence in general does not support anything like the fear and loathing that the sources you cite evince or anything like a ban on the substance. These things emerge from ideology and politics not science.

What’s the evidence for the longevity of humans based on current dietary concerns? Infant mortality, yeah, but many ancients lived well into their 70’s and 80’s and, at the risk of assuming, current U.S. obesity populations far out number those of the ancient world and the rest of the world. I would hazard a guess that the healthiest human today is no more healthier than an ancient Greek Olympian.

Well, you can hazard whatever gueses you want, but the data is clear that life expectancy is the highest it’s ever been, and is much higher in the developed world that elsewhere. Infant mortality is one of the greatest reasons, and nutrition and sanitation primarily, with health care secondarily,  are the reasons for this. (WikiLifeExpectancy). The longest life possible has probably not changed very much, but that’s not what I said. On average, more people live longer due to technological advances, and if you don’t believe that then I cannot see how we can possibly bridge the divide between our understandings of the world of public health.

As for birth defects and agent orange, what the hell are you talking about?! The life of a dairy cow is, in general, miserable. The contribution to this misery from BGH is IMO negligible given how bad the whole system is.

Let’s take some examples from your links:
“the overwhelming danger for future generations”
“This will invariably lead to an increase in the number of antibiotic resistent diseases in children and adults.”
“Shades of Jurassic Park!  Shades of Frankenstein!  Monsanto had created a “Frankenfood!” 

If you don’t call that scare mongering far in excess of what the evidence justifies, then you’re not being honest.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 05:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 November 2007 02:25 PM

SkepticDave,

So what did they then do? Recommend more study and ban the product.

Anyway, the reason I disparagingly referred to this as link war is that neither of us is going to find that one piece of compelling evidence to change the other’s midn because such evidence rarely exists for complex secondary and tertiary effects of such technologies used in food production.


Although this discussion has probably ran its due course, I admit of no smoking gun for immediate human health risks due to the use of Monsanto’s Posilac. It’s not the only controversial product they make.

All I’m arguing is that the evidence in general does not support anything like the fear and loathing that the sources you cite evince or anything like a ban on the substance. These things emerge from ideology and politics not science.

I call it skepticism and concern. You call it fear and loathing. Those are subjective claims I suppose.

As for birth defects and agent orange, what the hell are you talking about?!

Some symptoms of certain problems are very severe. Yeah the problem is what needs to be addressed not just symptoms but I got the impression you were implying, “it’s just a symptom”.

Let’s take some examples from your links:
“the overwhelming danger for future generations”
“This will invariably lead to an increase in the number of antibiotic resistent diseases in children and adults.”
“Shades of Jurassic Park!  Shades of Frankenstein!  Monsanto had created a “Frankenfood!”

 
Now some of that lingo is scare mongering but the information I provided was not just the words you quoted.

If you don’t call that scare mongering far in excess of what the evidence justifies, then you’re not being honest.

Speaking of being honest, you stated in your initial remarks on this topic, “I am also skeptical of the fear generated by GM crops. I can see theoretical problems, but I think the same can be said for any new technology. Ultimately, whether the potential harms outwiegh the benefits is far from proven, and I think additional testing and reasearch is appropriate.” Which is basically my position as well for I have quoted health organizations requesting additioinal testing too.

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Posted: 14 November 2007 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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HERE is a fun article from the New York Times a week or so back.  It makes a fun comparison between cooking and chemistry.  Cooking is a form of bioengineering.  Is it not?  The same can be said of creating wine with yeast, no?

I am still on the fence with regards to whole foods.  I buy some organic produce because I prefer the taste.  But, for many fruits and vegetables I don’t notice a difference, apart from the heftier price tag.  I buy only organic & cage free eggs and organic & rennet free dairy for ethical reasons.  I do also notice a big difference in taste with those animal products, particularly with the eggs.  I suppose if you like something else better, though, then that’s just your taste.

I take Doug’s advice wholeheartedly.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Eat a balanced diet, relatively low meat consumption, make sure to thoroughly wash and cook food, do not cross-contaminate, etc., don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess ... that’s really about 99% of what you need to know.

People end up obsessing about the other 1%, but it’s really not worth the time and effort.

I question whether it’s 99 vs 1%, or 90 vs 10%, or something more like 60 vs 40%.  But I get the point that there is no solid basis for grand alarmist claims.  I also don’t doubt the findings or ethical motivations of food scientists.  I think that, in general, they are a very dedicated and authoritative bunch.  My skepticism is far greater with regard to the industry behind the science and the government itself, which is comprised of many policy makers individuals who have demonstrated a lack of respect for science.

I think there is much to be said about a need for more research, and I don’t disagree with all of skepticdave’s points.  I think that there are some real crooked things going on in the food industry.  For example, why all the diet fad books?  Isn’t the recipe for obesity an obvious equation?

A year or so ago, I saw a film called The Future of Food.  Is there anyone else on this forum who has seen it and can give me their thoughts about the validity of its points?  Also, I have read Jane Goodall’s book Harvest for Hope.  What do you all think about that one?  Pseudoscience or worthy of consideration?

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