Warning: "Biodevastation" Activists Spread False Fears About Safe Foods: Misleading Attacks on Milk Cause Unnecessary Concerns for Parents and Consumers

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Caveat Emptor. Consumers and Journalists beware-Biodevastation activists aim to target you over the next few days with false and misleading information about food safety, nutrition and the environment. The same people who brought you a long list of other false health and environmental scares-including the infamous Alar in apples scare, the Dow-Corning breast implant campaign-and dozens of other debunked fears are at it again. This time the scaremongers are targeting such safe foods as milk and other dairy products in your local supermarket and at food retail outlets such as Starbucks.

Like the misleading Alar in apples scare, activists use products associated with children - like milk and ice cream - and falsely link these products with horrible ills such as cancer to evoke the greatest fear among parents and the consuming public. The harm and cost to consumers and farmers alike can be significant.

In 1989 environmental activists and their public relations firm Fenton Communications claimed that the use of the plant growth regulator Alar by apple growers was causing cancer in children who eat apples and drink apple juice. The claims made national headlines and were highlighted on news programs like 60 Minutes. They turned out to be false, but they cost apple farmers hundreds of millions, increased consumer food costs, and caused a significant spike in consumer purchases of organic produce.

Conveniently, this public relations firm also represented the benefiting organic food industry interests, who were also conveniently funding the environmental activists.

When the science and health community responded and showed that the offending "cancer-causing" chemical was, in fact, less carcinogenic than bacon, tap water or peanut butter (Bruce Ames, University of California Berkeley), it was too late. The public relations firm had celebrated achieving their goal; "the PR campaign was designed so that revenue would flow back to the (client) from the public." (Source: Fenton Communications memo published in the Wall Street Journal, 10/3/1999). And when confronted over a decade later when the false "cancer in children" fears failed to materialise, the PR firm referred inquiries to their client, the Natural Resources Defence Council, which stated, "The message of that report might have been muddled by the media, and the public might have over-reacted, because we never said there was an immediate danger from Alar..." (Source: PR Central's Inside PR Monday, September 4, 2000)

Today, more than a decade later, the same public relations firm and the same activists are in San Diego and at local supermarkets and corner coffee shops across the country spreading false fears about the safety of milk from cows supplemented with protein-based bovine growth hormones (rbST). This time Fenton Communications represents ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry's and a variety of other "organic" and "natural" products companies whose sales benefit from these scares. Fenton is also representing the activists attacking the safety of dairy products derived from cows that are supplemented with rbST. Once again, these activists are receiving funding from the benefiting organic industry interests.

These slick public relations professionals (often claiming to be from the "non-profit" Environmental Media Services) promote speeches by evolutionary ecologist Michael Hansen or fired Fox journalists turned activists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre. These supposed experts proclaim that such dairy products cause cancer, harm cows, and hurt small dairy farmers. But check the facts from the hundreds of real experts who have published and commented on these issues: American Cancer Society: "There are no valid findings to indicate a risk of human carcinogenesis."

Children's Nutrition Research Center (Baylor College of Medicine): There is "no scientific basis for claims regarding bovine somatotropin and IGF-1... if (these claims) were true, then human colostrum, human breast milk, and indeed, all milk would be incriminated as a cause of cancer... women and their children have nothing to fear regarding the nation's milk supply."

The American Medical Association: "BST is a protein hormone that is produced naturally by cows to help them make milk. Supplementing cows with small amounts of BST has been shown to increase their milk production by 10-40 percent per cow without harming the animal or altering the nutritional value of their milk." National Institutes of Health (Journal of the American Medical Association): "rbST-treated cows experience no greater health problems than untreated cows."

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop: "Unfortunately, a few fringe groups are using misleading statements and blatant falsehoods as part of a long-running campaign to scare consumers about a perfectly safe food. Their long-range goal is to prevent the benefits of biotechnology from reaching the public. Because dairy foods are an important, widely consumed source of nutrition, it is necessary to condemn these attacks on the safety of milk for what they are: baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible." So, next time you look at a pint of eco-friendly Ben & Jerry's, remember, all milk contains bovine growth hormones-they are naturally produced by all dairy cows. Supplementing dairy cows to help them maintain their natural peak levels of this hormone does not change the milk in any way-but it does help protect our environment by enabling family dairy farmers to produce more milk with fewer cows. This results in significantly less water and fuel use, less grain and land under the plow, and less animal waste. This safe product-used by more small dairy farmers than large-also helps family farmers remain profitable and ensure they can afford to pass along their farms to future generations.

Biotechnology helps farmers produce more safe and nutritious food, using less land and less input. This is good for consumers, good for the environment and good for farmers - misleading fear campaigns, on the other hand, are not.

The American Council on Science and Health is a consortium of more than 350 scientists and physicians dedicated to consumer education on public health issues, such as the environment, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals. ACSH differentiates between real health risks and hypothetical or trivial health scares.