- Two veteran news reporters for Fox TV
in Tampa, Florida have been fired for refusing to water down an investigative
report on Monsanto's controversial milk hormone, rBGH (recombinant bovine
growth hormone). Monsanto's rBGH is a genetically-engineered hormone sold
to dairy farmers, who inject it into their cows every two weeks to increase
milk production. In recent years, evidence has accumulated indicating
that rBGH may promote cancer in humans who drink milk from rBGH-treated
cows. It is the link between rBGH and cancer that Fox TV tried hardest
to remove from the story.
- In the fall of 1996, award-winning reporters
Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series
on rBGH in Florida milk. After more than a year's work on the rBGH series,
and three days before the series was scheduled to 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. WTVT had been advertising the series aggressively,
but canceled it at the last moment. Monsanto's second letter warned of
"dire consequences" for Fox if the series aired 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
- The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that
WTVT violated its license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
by demanding that the reporters include known falsehoods 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 http://www.foxbghsuit.com for all to see.
- No one will be surprised to learn that
powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into re-writing 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. (See REHW #381, #382, #383,
#384, #483, but especially #454.)
- The U.S. 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,
oversaw the approval process, then went back to work for Monsanto. (See
- 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 judgment and refusal to be guided by early scientific
evidence indicating harm. (See REHW #327, #328.) 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. Critics says 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.
- The Wilson/Akre rBGH series (a script
of which is available on the web site www.foxbghsuit.com) makes the following
- ** rBGH was never properly tested before
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
FDA but was never published. FDA has refused to allow anyone outside 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 75% 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
- ** 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, 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. See REHW #381.)
- At the web site www.foxbghsuit.com, 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 of 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 lawsuit comes at an especially
good time to publicize the relationship between rBGH and human cancer because
new evidence has come to light.
- When a cow is injected with rBGH, its
milk production is stimulated, but not directly. The presence of rBGH
in the cow's blood stimulates production of another hormone, called Insulin-Like
Growth Factor 1, or IGF-1 for short. It is IGF-1 that stimulates milk
- IGF-1 is a naturally-occurring hormone-protein
in both cows and humans. The IGF-1 in cows is chemically identical to
the IGF-1 in humans. The use of rBGH increases the levels of IGF-1 in
the cow's milk, though the amount of the increase is disputed. Furthermore,
IGF-1 in milk is not destroyed by pasteurization. Because IGF-1 is active
in humans --causing cells to divide --any increase in IGF-1 in milk raises
obvious questions: will it cause inappropriate cell division and growth,
leading to growth of tumors?
- The Council on Scientific Affairs of
the American Medical Association formally expressed concern about IGF-1
related to rBGH in 1991, saying, "Further studies will be required
to determine whether ingestion of higher than normal concentrations of
bovine insulin-like growth factor [IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents,
- Monsanto's public position since 1994
has been that IGF-1 is not elevated in the milk from rBGH-treated cows
--despite its own studies to the contrary. For example, writing in the
British journal, LANCET, in 1994, Monsanto researchers said "...IGF-1
concentration in milk of rBST-treated cows is unchanged," and "...there
is no evidence that hormonal content of milk from rBST-treated cows is
in any way different from cows not so treated." [Monsanto calls
rBGH rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), thus avoiding use of the word
'hormone.'] However, in a published letter, the British researcher T. B.
Mepham reminded Monsanto that in its 1993 application to the British government
for permission to sell rBGH in England, Monsanto itself reported that "the
IGF-1 level went up substantially [about five times as much]."
The U.S. FDA acknowledges that IGF-1 is elevated in milk from rBGH-treated
cows. Other proponents of rBGH acknowledge that it at least doubles
the amount of IGF-1 hormone in the milk. The earliest report in the
literature found that IGF-1 was elevated in the milk of rBGH-treated cows
by a factor of 3.6.
- Does IGF-1 promote cancer? In January
of this year a Harvard study of 15,000 white men published in SCIENCE reported
that those with elevated --but still normal --levels of IGF-1 in their
blood are 4 times as likely as average men to get prostate cancer.
The SCIENCE report ends saying, "Finally, our results raise concern
that administration of GH [growth hormone] or IGF-1 over long periods,
as proposed for elderly men to delay the effects of aging, may increase
risk of prostate cancer." By analogy, Monsanto's current efforts
to increase the IGF-1 levels in America's milk supply raise the question:
if little boys drink milk from rBGH-treated cows over long periods, will
the elevated levels of IGF-1 increase their prostate cancer rates? This
is not a question that should be answered by a wholesale experiment on
the American people --but that is precisely what Monsanto is currently
doing. It is difficult to put a happy face on this, try as Fox might.
- 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.