Bad Milk Case: Business as Problem and Solution

One story that has garnered a considerable amount of attention through anti-corporate documentaries (both The Corporation, and Food Inc), has been Monsanto’s development of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in the early 1990s. It could be that this case has received ample attention as it demonstrates how companies like Monsanto have so much influence in what foods are pushed in the market today, regardless of scientific studies that prove these foods are not safe for human consumption. But where corporations have the power to put unsafe products on the market, corporations also have the power to take them off the shelves.

How One Corporation Kept rBGH on the Market
In the early 1990s, the development of Monsanto’s rBGH (marketed as Posilac) was intended to increase the milk output of dairy cows by more than 10%. It soon became evident that this was not a magical solution for farmers after all, as cows were having frequent and painful rBGH-induced infections, that in turn had to be treated with greater amounts of costly antibiotics.

Through their expensive marketing dollars, Monsanto insisted that milk from cows given rBGH had no negative effects on humans. But governments of Canada, Australia, Japan and Europe saw otherwise. Most governments banned the use of rBGH, noting that their scientific committees reported that consuming milk of cows injected with rBGH poses serious risks of cancer in humans.

Government Did Not Stop it, So Another Corporation Did
It was bad for the cow, bad for the farmer, and bad for the consumer. Nonetheless, in 1993, the genetically engineered hormone rBGH was approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration. Yet, by 2008 the milk from rGBH cows disappeared off the shelves of stores almost overnight. And no, it was not the U.S. government that stepped in to do it.

One of the first groups to step in; Safeway. Yes, that is right, the grocery store. As early as 2005, Safeway’s processing plants became rBGH free, and by 2007 the company stopped buying from dairy farmers that used rBGH. Even though this was not the most profitable decision for the company (initially of course), it was a decision that just made sense. The company operates on a philosophy that focuses on; People, Products, Community, and the Planet. The Monsanto rBGH is bad for people, products, community and the planet, so for Safeway there was no better thing to do then to ditch it.

When retail giant Walmart decided to follow this trend and phase out rBGH products in 2008, Monsanto’s prized product took a final big hit, and it forced Monsanto to realize losses on the drug.

Corporate Social Responsibility Programs Do Matter
All it took was one important grocer with a strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to cause a rBGH-free domino effect. After Safeway took action, one after the other grocery stores began eliminating rBGH containing products from their shelves. Even if companies did not care for social causes like health and the environment the way Safeway did, they began eliminating rBGH products just the same to avoid profit losses of having customers switch to Safeway for their weekly supply of safe milk and eggs.

While we see one corporation take advantage of animals, people and the environment by pushing a dangerous drug, we also see another corporation become a force for positive social change. We should still look cautiously on the corporation but we should not loose faith in the market system altogether. We see how CSR programs like the one at Safeway, can be more responsive to society than even governments themselves.

Glass of Milk via Shutterstock

by Dani Thé

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