Expert committee: no danger to humans
from milk and meat from BST-treated cows

Milk from BST-treated cows is declared safe by independent scientific committee

After examining new evidence, an FAO/WHO independent scientific committee has reconfirmed that the treating of cows with the hormone bovine somatotropins, known as BST, to increase milk production is safe. The Committee concluded that there are no food safety or health concerns related to BST residues in products such as milk and meat from treated animals. The use of BST increases a cow's milk production by 10 to 15 percent.

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), met at FAO in Rome from 17 to 26 February 1998 to evaluate certain residues of veterinary drugs in food, had originally stated in 1992 that BST-treated animals and animal products do not pose any risks to humans. The Committee is an independent scientific committee whose recommendations to FAO and WHO are relied upon by governments and international organizations on scientific matters such as food additive safety and usage, tolerable levels of contaminants or residue levels of veterinary drugs in foods.

Disagreement over use of BST has complicated trade in dairy products between the United States, where BST is widely used, and the European Union, which has opposed use of the hormone.

JECFA's work on the safety of residues of veterinary drugs in food includes establishing acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) and maximum residue limits (MRLs) for certain drugs when they are administered to food-producing animals in accordance with good animal husbandry practices.

In the area of maximum residue limits (MRL) for BST, the Committee found that available data on the identity and concentration of residues of the veterinary drug in animal tissues provide a wide margin of safety for consumption of residues in food when the drug is used according to good practice in the use of veterinary drugs. The Committee concluded that the presence of drug residues in animal products does not present any health concerns.

In arriving at its conclusions on BST, JECFA considered possible problems such as the likelihood of a possible increase in the udder disease mastitis in BST-treated cows which could lead to contamination of milk with antibiotics used to treat mastitis. The Committee concluded that the use of BST will not result in a higher risk to human health due to the use of antibiotics to treat mastitis and that the increased potential for drug residues in milk could be managed by practices currently in use by the dairy industry and by following label directions for use.

Another concern examined by the Committee involved the risk of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). It has been shown that exposure of human new borns to cow's milk increases the risk of IDDM approximately 1.5-fold. The Committee considered whether exposure of new borns to milk from BST-treated cows might further increase this risk. It concluded that, because of its unchanged composition, the milk of BST-treated cows does not represent an additional risk to the development of IDDM.

The Committee's report will now be considered by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex works to harmonize international trade and to prevent food that is unfit for human consumption from entering commercial channels. It has developed more than 237 food commodity standards and has established over 40 guidelines and codes for food production and processing.

Go to Summary and Conclusions of meeting

5 March 1998

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