WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration approved a genetically engineered hormone Friday to increase the milk output of cows. But it declined to require labels for food from animals treated with the product, saying the milk and meat would be safe to consume.
The agency, noting that it could find no threat to human or animal health, gave St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. permission to market recombinant bovine somatotropin, or BST, ending a nine-year application process.
However, a 90-day moratorium imposed by Congress at the urging of Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) will prevent dairy farmers from immediately using the genetic copy of a hormone that naturally occurs in cattle.
The delay will give the White House Office of Management and Budget time to study the impact of increased production on dairy farmers, some of whom complain that use of the hormone could drive them out of business.
The budget office study also will examine the possibility of consumers rejecting milk, butter, cheese, ice cream or ground beef if they know that cows might be treated with the hormone.
But in announcing approval of the hormone, FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler said "the public can be confident that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to consume." He called BST "one of the most extensively studied animal drug products to be reviewed by the agency."
The genetically engineered product increases milk output by supplementing a cow's natural BST, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. Milk from treated cows has been found to have the same nutritional value and composition as milk from untreated cows, the FDA said.
Agency officials noted that in clinical trials treated cows had a slight increase in mastitis, or infected udders. Opponents said that would raise the risk that antibiotics used to treat the infections would find their way into milk. They claim that would pose a risk to people with allergies to antibiotics and encourage the development of antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans.
Jeremy Rifkin, a leading biotechnology opponent based in Washington, said his Foundation on Economic Trends will begin a campaign of boycotts, persuasion and litigation to keep BST off the market.
"Our message to consumers is if you don't want your families to have increased antibiotic residues in your milk, ice cream or cheese, you better go into the store and tell the manager you don't want milk treated with BST," he said.