A group of scientists in England has questioned Monsanto Co.'sclaims that use of genetically engineered bovine somatotropin(BST) does not boost the somatic cell count in cows' milk, and hasaccused the company of blocking a negative report on the issue.The three scientists, writing a commentary in today's Nature, saidtheir 1989 meta-analysis of St. Louis-based Monsanto's own trialdata showed "there was evidence that the milk from cows treatedwith BST contains statistically significantly increased levels ofsomatic cells (or more prosaically, pus)."The authors, in an editorial titled "Plagarism or Protecting PublicHealth," said that over the last five years Monsanto has blockedefforts to publish their analysis, which was based on raw data fromeight trials. Monsanto sponsored the studies to judge BST's effectson somatic cell counts (SCC). Increased numbers of somatic cells inmilk are associated with an increased risk of mastitis.BST is designed to boost milk production in cows and thoseopposing use of the controversial growth hormone have argued itwould increase mastitis, or inflammation of the udder. Monsantoreceived FDA approval last November to market BST and sells itunder the brand name, Posilac.In the August 1994 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science (JDS),researchers published a report on 15 studies sponsored byMonsanto, including the eight analyzed by the English scientists.The findings favored use of BST and among the conclusions wasthe observation that cows treated with the growth hormone were nomore likely to suffer mastitis than untreated cows.The JDS article also concluded that incidence of mastitis increasedas milk yield increased, but the effect was the same in BST-treatedand untreated cows.The authors of the Nature commentary _ Erik Millstone, of SussexUniversity in Brighton, Eric Brunner, of University CollegeLondon, and, Ian White of the London School of Hygiene andTropical Medicine _ said their meta-analysis of Monsanto's 1989studies pooled data from the trials, making findings moremeaningful than examinations of individual trials.The scientists said they have not seen raw data from all 15 studies.But they noted that Monsanto, in 1989, "published estimates ofaverage SCC" from the eight trials they examined and basedobservations on a separate analysis of each trial."[Monsanto's researchers] observed `a significant increase insomatic cells at two sites and in other trials there was no differencein somatic cells,'" Millstone and his colleagues said. The threescientists contend that until raw data from the other seven trials ismade public, "some important questions about the effects of BSTon animal health will remain unresolved."Monsanto officials released statements defending their rights not toallow the English scientists to publish analyses of data that did notbelong to them. The company also said that the JDS article, whichincluded 70 short-term studies in addition to the 15 full studies,invalidates the findings of Millstone and his colleagues.Tom McDermott, Monsanto's director of biotechnologycommunications, said the company may decide "to set the recordstraight" on BST in another journal article."The two main points [of Millstone, Brunner and White] arewrong," McDermott told BioWorld. "Their view that they have theright to publish an analysis of someone else's data is novel, at least.Most journals would not publish an article under those conditions."And concerning their meta-analysis, we have published the dataand we did pool the data just as they did."McDermott agreed pooling data makes for "more robust science,"adding that the JDS article combined all data.In their Nature commentary, Millstone and the other two scientistsadmit that their analysis of Monsanto's eight BST studies in 1989was unable to determine whether BST or increased milk yield wasresponsible for boosting, by an average of 19 percent, the numberof somatic cells in milk from BST-treated cows."Until data on milk yields become available such an analysis is notpossible," they said.McDermott noted that Monsanto has placed labels on Posilacalerting dairy farmers to the possibilities that increased milk yieldscan boost somatic cell counts.Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends inWashington is among consumer activists who have opposed use ofBST. Rifkin told BioWorld the Nature commentary "is anotherblow for Monsanto," adding, "The FDA ought to rescind theapproval of the product or [milk from BST-treated cows] should belabeled." n

-- Charles Craig

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