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April 10, 2008

A waking nightmare is how I remember my first experience with the Monsanto-sponsored Adventure Through Inner Space ride at Disneyland. As my 11-year-old self waited in line for the now defunct ride, my anxiety grew as other guests appeared to enter one end of a “Mighty Microscope,” emerge near the opposite end mere inches tall, and then disappear entirely. Once I passed through the microscope on my “Omnimover,” I continued to “shrink” (in relation to the giant virtual snowflakes surrounding me) until I penetrated the walls of the oxygen atom and faced an enormous glowing nucleus that threatened to swallow me up. It was terrifying.

Monsanto is terrifying me again. An advocacy group it supports, American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT), is fighting the use of labels that declare dairy products free from the synthetic bovine growth hormone rBST, which Monsanto produces. Injecting cows with the hormone causes them to produce more milk, which means the dairy industry can produce more products at lower costs.

The problem for consumers of these products, as suggested by medical experts such as the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, is that rBST increases cancer risk. In addition, consuming dairy products with rBST could cause people to become resistant to antibiotics, making them prone to bacterial infections. Evidently, cows injected with the hormone have higher rates of udder infections, and when they’re treated with antibiotics, they can develop resistant bacteria; those who consume dairy products from these cows could also build up resistance.

The European Union and Canada have banned the use of rBST. Still, it’s met with FDA approval, and since products on store shelves contain it, consumers are asking that those products be identified. AFACT is lobbying state legislators to introduce bills that would restrict such labeling, and you have to ask yourself why. Why don’t they and their Monsanto backers want us to know we’re consuming rBST? Why do they want to keep us in the dark? It’s one thing to induce people to suspend disbelief on a ride in Disneyland; it’s another in real life.