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A New Movement: Milk Activism

January 27, 1994|DANIEL P. PUZO

People protest in favor of animal rights; they protest against encroaching development. But last Sunday, approximately 30 anti-biotechnology activists introduced onlookers at the Los Angeles Farmers Market to a new cause of the moment: milk.

The rally, sponsored by the Washington-based advocacy group Pure Food Campaign, was staged to protest food industry plans to use a controversial drug in dairy cows that could increase milk production about 20%.

Beginning Feb. 4, Monsanto Co., the manufacturer of bovine somatotropin, or BST, can begin marketing and selling the product to commercial milk producers.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of BST late last year after determining that products derived from the drug are safe for human consumption. For instance, the FDA found that milk from BST-treated cows has the same nutritional value and chemical composition as milk from untreated cows. As a result, the agency decided that no special labeling is required on products developed from animals treated with the drug.

Critics of BST say the drug will cause udder inflammation, or mastitis, in treated cows. To forestall any such infection, dairy farmers may increase the amount of antibiotics given to animals; it's feared that this will lead to a corresponding rise in the level of antibiotics in milk for human consumption. But FDA and Monsanto both claim that sufficient safeguards exist to discover any unsafe drug residues in milk.

Despite Sunday's small turnout, the Pure Food Campaign has had some success locally in thwarting BST. Last November, the Los Angeles City Board of Education passed a resolution that prohibits for one year the distribution of BST-treated milk or other dairy products in local schools.

Pure Food Campaign is now asking the Los Angeles City Council and the L. A. County Board of Supervisors to consider similar resolutions. Failing a sales moratorium, the Pure Food Campaign will ask the council and supervisors to order that BST-treated milk carry appropriate labeling.

Danila Oder, Los Angeles area coordinator for the Pure Food Campaign, says that a big goal for the group is educating the public. Sunday's rally, she says, "was a good jumping-off point for future activities." The anti-biotechnocrats may now be just a fringe group, but they could eventually pose serious problems for genetic engineering pioneers, much the way activists have stalled food irradiation.

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