Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Monsanto Files (1 of 4)

The Ecologist September October 1998

How Monsanto ‘Listens’ to Other Opinions by Peter Montague

"In advertisements in the national press, Monsanto promised to supply readers with the addresses of vocal green critics of the food industry. It was rare for a company to give free publicity to its opponents, Monsanto boasted, ‘but we believe that food is so important, everyone should know all they want to about it’. Rut the claim that this was an open, transparent company raised hollow laughs on the other side of the Atlantic"’.

In the autumn of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on Monsanto’s controversial milk hormone, rBGH, in Florida milk. After more than a year’s work on the rBGH series, and three days before the series was scheduled to go on air starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer "enormous damage" if the series ran. Although WTVT had been advertising the series aggressively, they cancelled it at the last moment. Monsanto’s second letter warned of "dire consequences" for Fox if the series went on air as it stood. (how Monsanto knew what the series contained remains a mystery.) According to documents filed in Florida’s Circuit Court (13th Circuit) Fox lawyers then tried to water down the series, offering to pay the two reporters if they would leave the station and keep mum about what Fox had done to their work. The reporters refused Fox’s offer, and on April 2, 1998, filed their own lawsuit against WTVT.

Steve Wilson has 26 years’ experience as a working journalist and has won four Emmy awards for his investigative reporting. His wife, Jane Akre has been a reporter and news anchor for 20 years, and has won a prestigious Associated Press award for investigative reporting.

The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that WTVT violated its licence from the Federal Communications Commission (I CC) by demanding that the reporters include known faIsehoods in their rBGH series. The reporters also charge that WTVT violated Florida’s "whistle blower" law. Many of the legal documents in the lawsuit — including Monsanto’s threatening letters — have been posted on the world wide web at for all to see.

No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into rewriting the news, but this case offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and their effects inside a news organization. It is not pretty.

It has been well-documented by Monsanto and by others that rBGH-treated cows undergo several changes: their lives are shortened, they are more likely to develop mastitis, an infection of the udder (which then requires use of antibiotics. which end up in the milk along with increased pus), and they produce milk containing elevated levels of another hormone called IGF- 1. It is IGF - 1 that is associated with increased likelihood of human cancers.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rBGH for use in cows in 1993, but the approval process was controversial because former Monsanto employees went to work for the FDA to oversee the approval process, and then returned to work for Monsanto. Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while falsely claiming safety. The entire planet is now contaminated with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) thanks to Monsanto’s poor judgement and refusal to be guided by early scientific evidence indicating harm [see J. Cummins in this issue]. The 2,4, 5-T in Agent Orange — the herbicide that has brought so much grief to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans — is another example of Monsanto’s poor judgment and failure to heed scientific evidence to prevent harm [see H. Warwick in this issue]. Critics warn that rBGH is just one more example of Monsanto’s monumentally poor judgment. When Wilson and Akre asked Monsanto officials to respond to these allegations of past poor judgment Monsanto had no comment.

If the Wilson/Akre rBGH series was never shown by FOX TV, the script is nevertheless available to those interested on the website What follows are some of the more enlightening points it raises:

rBGH was never properly tested before the FDA allowed it on the market. A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two years of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was submitted to the FDA but was never published. The FDA has refused to allow anyone outside the FDA to review the raw data from this study, saying it would irreparably harm" Monsanto.

Therefore the linchpin study of cancer and rBGH has never been subjected to open scientific peer review.

Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight — who lost 75per cent of his herd — says on camera that Monsanto and Monsanto - funded researchers at University of Florida withheld from him the information that other dairy herds were suffering similar problems. He says Monsanto and the university researchers told him only that he must be doing something wrong.

The law required Monsanto to notify the FDA if they received complaints by dairy farmers such as Charles Knight. But four months after Knight complained to Monsanto the FDA had heard nothing from Monsanto. Monsanto’s explanation? Despite a series of visits to Knight’s farm, and many phone conversations, Monsanto officials say it took them four months to figure out that Knight was complaining about rBGH.

• Monsanto claims on camera that every truckload of milk is tested for excessive antibiotics — but Florida dairy officials and scientists on camera say this is simply not true.

• Monsanto says on camera that Canada’s ban on rBGH has nothing to do with human health concerns — but Canadian government officials speaking on camera say just the opposite.

• Canadian government officials, speaking on camera, say they believe Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain approval for rBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials say the Canadians misunderstood their offer of ‘research’ funds.

• Monsanto officials claim on camera that "the milk has not changed" because of rBGH treatment of cows. As noted earlier, there is abundant evidence — some of it from Monsanto’s own studies — that this is definitely not true.

• On camera, a Monsanto official claims that Monsanto has not opposed dairy co-ops labeling their milk as "rBGH-free". But this is definitely not true. Monsanto brought two lawsuits against dairies that labeled their milk "rBGH-free". Faced with the Monsanto legal juggernaut, the dairies folded and Monsanto then sent letters around to other dairy organizations announcing the outcome of the two lawsuits — in all likelihood, for purposes of intimidation. (Conveniently, the FDA regulations that discourage labeling of milk as "rBGH-free" were written by Michael Taylor. an attorney who worked for Monsanto both before and after his tenure as an FDA official.)

At the website, you will find the version of the Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox’s attorneys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly, nearly all the references to cancer have been removed from the script. Instead of cancer we now have "human health effects" — whatever those may be.

The Wilson/Akre story is one of talented, hard-working journalists trying to tell an important public health story. exposing lies and corruption by Monsanto, by the FDA, and now by Fox, too. If nothing else, perhaps the courage of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre will awaken many more of us to the potential dangers of Monsanto’s latest experiment on America’s children.

Peter Montague is the Editor of The Environment Research Foundation’s weekly publication Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly. P0 Box 5036. Annapolis. MD 21403-70336, USA.

No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into rewriting the news, but this case offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and their effects inside a news organization.

At the website, you will find the version of the Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox's attorneys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly nearly all the references to cancer have been removed from the script. .

Copyright © The Ecologist 1998

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