WOODBRIDGE, N.J. -- With a new drug designed to boost milk production in cows set to go to market next week, at least one supermarket chain has been alerting its customers that it is not carrying any dairy products derived from treated animals.
The synthetic growth hormone manufactured by Monsanto Corp. and called bovine somatotropin, or BST, received government approval in November and has been firmly backed by the government and loudly opposed by some consumer activist groups that have staged milk dumpings in front of supermarkets in different cities. The consumer groups have been fervently denouncing use of the hormone, citing an increased rate of udder infections in treated animals. They have also expressed skepticism about the use of biotechnology in general because its long-term effects are unknown.
So while the Food & Drug Administration gave its go-ahead to Monsanto to sell the drug beginning Feb. 3, some retailers predict consumers may become wary of dairy products as a result of the publicity surrounding the approval.
To alleviate any unnecessary backlash, the Pathmark chain here has placed signs in the dairy and meat departments of its 147 stores alerting shoppers that none of its products -- both private label and branded -- are derived from animals treated with the synthetic growth hormone.
"We've done a complete review with our suppliers to see if they have BST in any of their products -- that is, if any of the product comes from animals treated with BST -- and at the present time
none of them do," said Jim Shipton, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs. "If they make the move to a BST product, then we will have to look at it again."
The Pathmark chain, a division of Supermarkets General Corp. here, operates stores in New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.
"Basically, it is just to inform the consumer that products on the shelves are not from BST-treated animals," said Shipton. "And we are obviously assessing the situation of BST as it goes along."
Kroger Co., Cincinnati, which, as reported in SN, has already asked its dairy suppliers to refrain from supplying it with products derived from treated animals, will continue to do so until consumers indicate acceptance of the products.
Last week, Paul Bernish, vice president of public affairs, reiterated the company's position and said it will continue to review the issue on an ongoing basis.
Another retail dairy buyer, who asked not to be identified, said of dairy products produced from hormone-treated cows, "I think right now the public is not ready to accept it."
However, not all retailers see it as a store-level issue. Mike Read, an attorney and spokesman for Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, said his company sees it not as a health and safety issue, but as an economic issue for dairy suppliers.
"It is an economic issue, not a health issue, and we are leaving it up to our dairy suppliers," said Read.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America has conducted three surveys since the approval of BST to ascertain consumers' trust in the nation's milk supply. All three polls showed "consistently high" levels of consumer confidence.
Meanwhile, a dairy seminar scheduled for March sponsored by the Eastern Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., will include a session on the use of BST in milk production, according to Marvin Spira, executive director of the association.