Environmental activists have been congratulating themselves left and right over the news of Monsanto’s decision to sell off its production-boosting synthetic dairy hormone (recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST). But as a St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist pointed out today, the anti-technology crowd may have been a little too quick to break out the champagne. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly bought the product line this week for its Elanco brand — a clear signal that the “milk wars” are far from over. And that’s something to celebrate.
The Post-Dispatch’s David Nicklaus writes,
When Monsanto announced two weeks ago that it was getting out of the milk-hormone business, anti-biotechnology groups were quick to take credit.
Greenpeace declared the exit "a big victory for consumers." The Center for Food Safety crowed that Monsanto was leaving "the failing artificial growth hormone business."
Now that the rest of the story is in, the groups’ victory celebrations seem premature. Not only did Monsanto get a good price $300 million plus an opportunity to participate in future profits but it sold its Posilac business to a company that’s deeply involved in animal agriculture…
[Eli Lilly] said the deal "means farmers have continued access to this vital technology, and that consumers can continue to have access to affordable, wholesome milk."
Since our growing population is demanding more animal protein than ever, the world will continue to need more milk. And rBST is the best way to get it from fewer cows – with greater efficiency and less waste. But mind-bogglingly (though not surprisingly), the possibility of more affordable, more environmentally friendly milk is exactly what green groups are dead set on preventing. Nicklaus continues,
Josh Brandon, a Vancouver-based agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace, vows to continue the fight against rBST. "They’ll face similar opposition and consumer resistance across North America," he said of Elanco. "They’ll be looking back on this in a year or two’s time and saying that it was a mistake."
Those are brave words, but the folks at Eli Lilly are no dummies. They’ve just placed a nine-figure bet on the notion that this product is in the food chain to stay.
Fortunately for those of us outside the bizarre world of radical environmentalism, this looks like a bet that farmers, cows, and the milk-buying public are also likely to win.