THE FOOD terrorists are at it again, but this time scientists and farmers have struck back, saying that the alarmists are wrong as usual.
Food safety and the application of new biotechnology are theissues. It is useful both to raise questions and answer them.
First, the latest attacks. The Consumer Policy Institute of Consumers Union, the magazine that purports to evaluate commercial products, has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the sale of milk from any of the 20,000 cows across the nation to which bovine somatotropin, also known as Bst or BGH, a synthetic copy of a human and animal hormone, is being administered.
In a related action, JeremyRifkin of Washington, a constant critic of biotechnological approaches to food production, has asked the FDA to ban the production of Bst until the government has formally approved its use. Rifkin also has filed a lawsuit demanding that the farmer-financed National Dairy Board cease promoting Bst.
The FDA, in cooperation with 22 colleges, is testing to determine if Bst is worth using, whether it harms animals and whether milk from treated cows can harm people and the environment. Scientists have not found any harmful effects.
But that has not halted critics, some of whom have raised the health issue as a smokescreen. They fear increased milk production expected from Bst will drive more farmers from the industry.
Bst is a synthetic hormone said to increase a cow's milk production by 10 to 23 percent. The FDA is expected to rule next year on whether to release Bst for general use. The federal watchdog agency is in a multiyear study of Bst's effects on animals and humans.
Some New York dairy herds are among those testing the synthetic hormone, which is a copy of a natural hormone found in cows and people.
The Consumers Union stand is partly based on a study that argues not enough is known about Bst's effects on health and the dairy industry. Raising the health issue is fair enough. But blocking the new Bst technology because it might increase milk supplies and push some farmers from business is not.
If we followed that path, we'd still have a large-scale bow and arrow industry. Consumers Union bases its health complaint on assertions that it knows of no studies that examine the effects of an elevated body growth protein called by the scary name IGF-1. Dr. David Barbano, the Cornell researcher who has worked with Bst for several years, puts IGF-1 scares to rest.
"IGF-1 is in the saliva of every person on earth, about as much as would be found in a liter of milk," he said.
"The FDA, in an August 1990 paper, addressed the very questions Consumers Union raised," Barbano said. After noting that the structure of IGF-1, an ingredient in breast milk, is similar in humans and cows and that its concentration is higher in human breast milk than in milk produced from Bst-treated cows, the FDA declares:
"Thus, the modest rise in IGF-1 concentration in milk produced from Bst-treated cows is well within the normal range of concentrations found currently in bovine and human milk." Four large drug companies are waiting for the FDA to approve the general sale of Bst.
And there's one final strike-back measure to report. Some 4,700 Washington State apple growers have filed a lawsuit against CBS, producers of the "60 Minutes" Sunday televised news program, and the National Resources Defense Council for spreading false information about dangers to consumers from apples treated with Alar, a growth retardant.
The apple growers say that false information, spread in part by the actress Meryl Streep, cost them $100 million in sales. The Washington-based consumer advocate asserted that it stands by its original claims. Alar has since been withdrawn from the market, largely to reassure the public.
But apple growers and researchers allied with them said that the dangers from consuming Alar treated apples were minimal.
Barnyard gossip -- The top six entries in the Allegany County 4-H "Good for You" recipe contest are Debbie Rogosienski, Melissa Zeh and Alana MacElroy, all of Cuba; Sarah Smith of Centerville, and Erin and Kristina LaValley, both of Belmont. They will compete in a state event Feb. 18. . . .
The National Corn Growers Association sees the newly enacted Clean Air Act as a stimulant to ethanol production, corn growing and ethanol plant building. . . . The Empire State Potato Club has decided to switch its annual meeting from the State Horticultural Society to the State Vegetable Growers Association, Feb. 11 to 13 at the Syracuse Sheraton Inn. . . . Swine producers from the entire Northeast will gather Monday and Tuesday at Cornell's Morrison Hall for the final two sessions on swine production.