Sunday, June 11, 2006

Regulatory hormonization

I am writing this in honour of my friend, the late Richard Lloyd. He was an adventurer and environmental activist who died a few years back, after he had waged, largely from behind the scenes, what he thought was a successful war against Bovine Growth Hormone.

To re-cap, the huge international agricultural biotech company, Monsanto, developed a synthetic hormone (recombinant bovine somatotropin) that substantially increases milk production in cattle. This genetic tinkering, however, is not without its risks: serious threats to both human and animal health have been reported. But Monsanto has a lot of weight to throw around, and it is not hesitant in doing so.

In the US, the matter approached comic-opera status when two reporters (Steve Wilson and Jane Akre) were fired by a Fox News affiliate for refusing to bow to Monsanto's pressure and lie about the dangers of BGH. Their firing was upheld by a higher court, which ruled that the two did not enjoy legal whistleblower protection, and that, besides, there was no law that prevented the station from compelling its reporters to lie. Faux News, indeed.

Here at home, senior Health Canada bureaucrats happily went to bat on Monsanto's behalf as well, gagging and disciplining their own scientists who dared to resist pressure to approve the controversial homone. The public outcry was such, however, that it was finally banned in 1999--as a danger to the health of cattle.

But these stories have a way of generating sequels. Buried in a back-page article in today's Ottawa Citizen, we discover the following:

Canada banned using growth hormones in dairy cows in 1999...but we have harmonized our regulations with those of the United States, allowing U.S. milk into Canada. And American dairy farmers can use growth hormones.

According to Samuel Epstein, a medical professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in environmental and occupational medicine,

Such hormone treatments may allow some of the drug itself to enter the milk....But it also tends to cause ill effects in the cattle, which then need more antibiotics--drugs that can also enter the milk. "Apart from all the other crap in milk, you'll find opus [sic, and yuck] cells and antibiotics," he said.

He said the combination raises the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers.

It ain't over till it's over, indeed. Another victory for trade liberalization, although a quieter one than the successful corporate lawsuit by Ethyl Corp. against the Canadian government, which forced the recension of a ban on a dangerous additive in gasoline.

Ah, the continuing joys of deep integration.

No comments: