The 17-member Commission of the European Community onTuesday recommended a seven-year ban on bovinesomatotropin (BST), a growth hormone which, when fed tocows, increases milk production.

Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation on Economic Trends hailed themeasure, asserting that it would kill BST in Europe. "This isclearly the worst political defeat this product has eversuffered," John Stauber, the foundation's national organizer,told BioWorld. The Europeans, he said, would reject milk fromBST-treated cows in the U.S. just as they have rejected beeffrom U.S. cows that have been fed hormones.

If approved by the European Community's Council ofAgricultural Ministers later this year, the proposed ban woulddovetail with an existing ban that will soon expire. In a pressrelease, the Foundation on Economic Trends said the ban wasexpected to "sail through those institutions (the EuropeanParliament and the Council of Agricultural Ministers) withbroad acceptance, and become law within the 12-memberEuropean Community."

The proposed ban, Stauber said, is aimed not generally atbiotechnology but at BST alone. But Leonard Guarraia, directorof policy analysis for Monsanto, which sells BST, called theproposed ban "an excuse to really throw into question muchbroader issues of trading in agricultural commodity products.

"It's a stalking horse, that's all it is for the GATT (GeneralAgreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations, the CAP(Common Agricultural Policy in Europe) situation, and the BlairHouse Accords (which speak to other agricultural issues)," hesaid.

The ban would set a very dangerous precedent as "the firstever based solely on socioeconomic reasoning rather than thethree scientific criteria -- safety, quality, efficacy -- thattraditionally determine whether a product wins marketingauthority," Guarraia said, quoting from a newsletter onregulatory affairs. The proposal has been justified largely onthe presumption that BST would threaten the viability of smallfamily farms.That would undermine the consistency of the alreadyunpredictable regulatory system in Europe, driving still moreinvestment funds abroad, Tom McDermott, director of publicaffairs for the Animal Sciences division of Monsanto, toldBioWorld. Instead of second place, European biotechnologymight end up "in third, fourth, or fifth place in world terms"(see BioWorld, June 8), he said.BST, McDermott said, has already been approved in ninecountries, including Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Jamaica, andthe former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, at home, the growth hormone's saga continues toleave all in suspense. "We do anticipate approval in the U.S.,hopefully in the not-too-distant future," said McDermott.

By contrast, "the prospects are slim for enactment" oflegislation that would place a one-year moratorium on BST, hesaid. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. It has beenincluded in the Senate version but not the House version of thepresident's budget, and its fate will be decided duringconference committee later this month.

-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.