The Greenwash Brigade

Stop belching, Bessie! You’re ruining the environment!

Heidi Siegelbaum Jul 8, 2008

What a riot! How complex is a story about:

  • The genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, somatotropin, trade name Posilac…
  • which is not approved for use in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, or New Zealand…
  • whose 1993 FDA approval led to the dismissal of several questioning FDA scientists that wanted more test data given the paucity of data given to support the approval…
  • which Monsanto claims reduces both methane (from dairy cow belching and farting — mind you, the first far exceeds the latter) and energy use generally from efficient feeding…
  • and the discussion of which raises more fart jokes than a Cub Scout camping trip?

The research paper, which I could not find, was co-authored by a researcher from the venerable Cornell University but apparently co-authored by a Monsanto consultant and employee. Can anyone say bias? I found the core inconsistency on Monsanto’s own web site which says that “[r]esponses to POSILAC are greatest when quality feed is available for consumption at least 20 hours a day.” So, how can it be that a herd, laden with somatotropin, would require less food when the cow obviously has to be chowing down almost 24-7?

Judith Capper of Cornell claims that “switching a million cows onto somatotropin would lead to savings equivalent to removing 400,000 family cars from the U.S. roads.” Well, that’s a treat! How about creating electricity with cow manure? Or using energy efficient lights in the outrageously energy-intensive dairy industry? Or find new fuels for transport of the raw milk to processing plants which are now going half full?

Fluid milk production is not just about the cows (opens PDF). It’s about using large tracts of land for production, the use of nutritionally poor ryegrass which gives cows indigestion (belching + farts = methane), and cooling and refrigeration along a continuum of growing food, housing and feeding of cows. Other farm-centric studies mention changing diets of the ruminants (their 4 stomachs digest food as opposed to humans’ gnarly intestines), water conservation measures, free cooling during winter months (this offer does not apply in Hawaii), heat recovery, boiler efficiency controls and adjustable speed drives on ventilation fans.

Bottom line is that Monsanto is under tremendous pressure for its very aggressive tactics with farmers over its weed and feed products (they spy on and then sue small farmers), its shop-worn excuses for not being upfront about labeling its genetically engineered products (if it’s safe then why worry about labeling?)

and of course it’s perennially under fire for Posilac which Monsanto admits gives cows mastitis and may also contribute to human cancers because it increases the hormone Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).

There’s no argument that methane is a serious contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Even Estonia is taxing farmers (image at right from Cape Cod Today) for their cow’s sins, and you can still download Kelly Ripa on Saturday Night Live in the Center for Cow Fart Study skit, a testament that the issue must be real.

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