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rBST: Case study of how the market eliminates GMOs

This post is brought to you by our media partner, The Organic & Non-GMO Report

rBST is dead. The controversial recombinant bovine somatotropin, also known as rBGH, is dying a quiet death, having been virtually rejected by US dairy farmers—not to mention major food retailers, dairy processors, and consumers.

A study published last summer found that more than two-thirds of dairy farmers who have ever treated their cows with rBST have stopped using it. Less than 10% of all dairies now use the GMO hormone.

While the media has all but ignored rBST’s demise, for the non-GMO movement, this is huge news. Developed by Monsanto (who else?), rBST was genetically engineered to increase milk production in cows. New Hampshire’s agriculture commissioner once compared rBST to “steroids for athletes.”

rBST was the first shot in the GMO war when the US Food and Drug Administration approved it back in 1994. Activists protested the approval by dumping buckets of milk in front of the FDA’s headquarters.

Early predictions were that rBST would be adopted by 63% to 98% of US dairy farmers. That never happened as adoption rates topped out at around 20% and have been declining ever since.

In the mid-2000s, a campaign led by Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility targeted major food retailers and dairy processors over their use of rBST, citing health concerns to people and cows. The dominoes started falling as major companies rejected use of the hormone, including Dean Foods, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, Publix, Kroger’s, Starbucks, Chipotle, etc. Meanwhile, dairy processors promoted their products as rBST-free and saw sales increase.

In 2008 Monsanto essentially gave up and sold off rBST to Elanco.

The death of rBST is a case study for how the market can eliminate GMOs.

There are others. In the early 2000s, McDonald’s and Burger King stopped buying GM potatoes when they became concerned that their customers would not want to eat GM French fries. GM potatoes haven’t been grown since. Whole Foods’ announcement last year that it would require labeling of GMO products in its stores has led many food companies to get their products non-GMO verified. More than 60 major food retailers with 9,000 stores, including Kroger’s, Safeway, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Giant Eagle, and others, have said they won’t sell a GM salmon that the FDA may soon approve.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should let the marketplace decide the GMO issue; we should still fight for mandatory labeling of GM foods. But the death of rBGH and the other examples show the power that food companies, retailers, and We the People have in deciding this issue.

As consumer awareness—and rejection—of GMO products increases, I’m sure we will see more examples of the marketplace taking GMOs off store shelves and our plates.

Ken Roseboro is editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, www.non-gmoreport.com.