Monday, August 23, 2010


Consumer activists serve a useful purpose in exerting pressure on the food industry to bring in corrections in their practices considered harmful to consumers. There have been instances of successful campaigns in the past benefiting the consumer community immensely. But their image is tarnished to some extent by some organizations indulging in activities not considered ethical by normal standards. Food industry is in a "sandwich" position between the consumers and the controlling agencies, each demanding products with better quality and safety. While statutory agencies take unusually long time to take decisions regarding implementation of restrictions on any aspect of the industry, consumer activists through sustained campaigns and mass support can exert pressure to achieve certain objectives. Most recent example is the BPA episode when most of the consuming industries started shunning BPA generating packing materials because of fear of backlash from consumers while BPA is still not banned in many countries. Here is another example of such an approach succeeding regarding use of milk produced from cows by injecting recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a genetically modified bio-material with unknown consequences on human body.

"As part of their collective commitment to health and wellness, Bon Appetit Management Company and Compass Group USA will contract to buy only yogurt from cows not treated with rBGH (also known as rBST) effective today. Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (OPSR), which facilitates a nationwide coalition opposing rBGH, commended today's announcement from the two companies. According to Rick North, Oregon PSR's Project Director, "Artificial growth hormone is known to cause harm to cows and may very well cause harm to humans. Congratulations to Bon Appetit Management Company and Compass Group for taking a stand on this issue. This change sends a clear signal to milk product manufacturers that major players in the food service industry want to serve products produced without rBGH, including yogurt. We applaud both companies for leading the industry another step in the right direction, making changes that support both animal welfare and human health."Bovine growth hormone occurs naturally in dairy cows and is present in all raw milk. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a genetically engineered animal drug injected in to cows to increase milk production".

"First approved by the FDA in 1993, the use of rBGH is highly controversial. rBGH is banned in most industrial nations includingCanada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 nations of the European Union. Cows that receive rBGH injections experience higher rates of mastitis, an infection of the udder that leads to swelling and inflammation. Not only is this painful for the cow, it often forces dairy farmers to rely on antibiotics to treat these infections, creating a cycle of unnecessary medical intervention and possibly contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The pharmaceutical labels on packages of rBGH list 16 toxic side effects, including hoof problems, increased pus in milk, heat stress, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems. The medical community has expressed deep concern that the use of these artificial hormones may also be harmful to human health. A significant body of scientific data has linked rBGH to possible increases in cancer and antibiotic resistance in humans. Although further study is needed, Bon Appetit and Compass Group prefer to take a precautionary approach, offering milk, and now yogurt, from cows not treated with rBGH to their customers and clients".

Unless consumers stand up for their right for access to safe food, dependence on government policies alone may not bring results though eventually Government will move in for institutionalizing any changes resulting from consumer driven initiatives. The Bt Brinjal episode in India also bears out this fact when sustained animosity exhibited by the consumers at different consultation meetings forced the government to backtrack on its stand to allow GM foods in India. Probably such consumer movements should have knowledgeable food scientists as their members to impart a sense of balance to their views.


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