WASHINGTON -- A National Institutes of Health panel hasconcluded that milk from cows treated with recombinantbovine somatotropin (BST) is safe to drink.

BST is used to increase milk production in cows. The officialstatement of the National Institutes of Health TechnologyAssessment panel, which met for three days last December toreview the safety of BST, appears in today's Journal of theAmerican Medical Association. The latest in a series of articlesproclaiming the safety of BST, it nonetheless failed to satisfydissenters, who maintain the treatment poses a threat to publichealth.

The panel concluded that "based on the data reviewed," milkfrom BST-treated cows is similar in composition to milk fromuntreated cows, that it is safe to drink, and that the health oftreated cows is not adversely effected. The conclusions supportthose published last year in the journal Science by Food andDrug Administration scientists.

In response, Samuel Epstein, professor of occupational andenvironmental medicine at the University of Illinois MedicalCenter in Chicago, charged that the panel ignored data showingthat BST-treated cows suffered reproductive failure and wereseverely stressed; that the milk contained excessive levels ofBST; and that in an effort to counter side effects of BST, manycows had been treated with legal and illegal antibiotics thatspill over into the milk.

Epstein said the data he cited was contained in more than1,000 pages of documents submitted by Monsanto Co. to theFDA and subsequently leaked to him. The NIH group did notreview the FDA documents.

-- Rachel Nowak Washington Bureau Chief

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