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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Canada Looks out for Cows

Air Date: Week of

The Canadian government recently rejected Monsanto’s application to use Bovine Growth Hormone in that country’s cows. But the ruling had nothing to do with the hormone’s human health impacts. Instead, Canadian commentator Suzanne Elston says they were protecting the health of their herds.


CURWOOD: Canada has said no to the Bovine Growth Hormone. The Monsanto Company had been seeking Canadian approval for the controversial and genetically engineered drug, which is used to boost milk production in dairy cows. Critics say it may endanger the health of cows and humans. The drug is now being used in much of the US dairy herd, after the Food and Drug Administration concluded it posed no health risks for humans. The Canadian government also found that it's safe for human health, but it rejected the drug out of concern for the cows. That prompted these thoughts from commentator Suzanne Elston.

ELSTON: You have to admire us Canadians. We'll apologize for just about anything, and we'll allow just about anyone to bulldoze our sense of nationality. That is, unless you mess with our livestock. Perhaps it's an appreciation that other living critters are willing to share this frozen northland with us. Or maybe it's because we sympathize with dumb animals that get pushed around a lot. But whatever the reason, Health Canada, the northern equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration, recently made itself a few corporate enemies when it refused to approve Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone. They claim that although exhaustive studies found no human health impacts, the government didn't like what it did to our cows.

What Bovine Growth Hormone does is increase milk production in dairy cattle by about 15%. According to the Canadian studies, it's linked to mastitis, lameness, and infertility, among other things. Health Canada felt that the 15% increase wasn't worth the risk, and Canadian farmers support their decision.

The threat of infertility is probably the biggest reason. The bottom line is that an infertile cow doesn't produce any milk. And even if their cows don't become infertile, the farmers figure that by the time they've paid for the drug and the extra vet bills to repair any damage that the Bovine Growth Hormone might cause, they'd be no further ahead. And then there's the Canadian quota system for milk. For every gallon of milk they sell, Canadian farmers have to pay so much to the Milk Marketing Board. The more milk they produce, the more it costs to sell it. So why would they bother risking the health of their herds for something that will probably end up costing them money? It doesn't make sense.

There's no doubt that Monsanto will appeal the Canadian decision, and there's no guarantee that they won't win. But for now, our cows and our conscience are safe.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Commentator Suzanne Elston lives on the north shore of Lake Ontario. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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