Posted August 12, 2007 08:20 pm - Updated August 13, 2007 08:41 pm

Marketers are putting the 'BS' into rBST

Milk from rBST-treated cows is safe for human consumption and has not been found to be different from milk from non-treated cows.
– U.S. Food and Drug Administration position
statement of March 16, 1994

You might have heard about the recent decision by Kroger Co. to stop selling milk produced by dairies that use the hormone rBST on their cows.

Let me rephrase that: You must have heard about the recent decision, because Kroger said it was you, the consumer, who motivated it to become “rBST-free” by February 2008.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of rBST? How about its full name: recombinant bovine somatotropin? Some folks call it rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). Still not ringing a bell?

Here’s what it is: A man-made copy of a hormone that is naturally produced in a cow’s pituitary gland. The lab-made hormone, like the natural one, stimulates milk production in cattle. It was approved for use by federal regulators in 1994 and is made here in Augusta by Monsanto Co.,* which markets it under the brand name Posilac.

Dairy farmers who purchase the hormone see their milk production increase by about 15 percent. The milk is not different; there is just more of it.

Kroger acknowledged this when it made its announcement Aug. 1, pointing out that “there is no difference” between milk produced at dairies that use rBST and those that don’t. Companies that shun rBST, including Safeway and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, say essentially the same thing.

So, why all the fuss? I’m trying to figure that out , but I suspect it has less to do with health and wellness, and more to do with marketing and merchandising.

Food marketers can create new, more expensive product categories if they can convince consumers that “rBST-free” dairy products are somehow better. Fortunately for the grocers, they don’t really have to work too hard – there’s no shortage of all-natural/organic/free-range/cruelty-free organizations out there passing off junk science as fact. According to these groups, rBST is bad for cows and maybe, just maybe (quick, get Michael Moore on the line!) can cause cancer in humans. The common theme is that because rBST is the result of biotechnology and engineering, it has to be bad.
These folks probably don’t like seedless watermelons, either.

Monsanto says the Kroger announcement will have little impact on its Augusta facility, which employs about 120, because in 2009 the company will begin moving production from a supplier in Belgium to the local plant. Common sense dictates that if every grocer stopped buying milk from dairies that us rBST, there no longer would be a market and the Augusta plant probablyy would shut down.

If that were to happen, and I doubt it would, I would raise my milk glass and give the facility a farewell toast. I won’t care whether the milk in the glass was produced by an rBST dairy or not, because in the end, it’s the same milk.

MEET THE NEW BOSS: Next to the Monsanto plant is a facility owned by The NutraSweet Co.

The plant produces aspartame, which, if you’re an artificial-sweetener user, you know as the no-calorie “blue packet.” (If you’re part of the junk-science crowd, you know it as the cancer-causing white powder of death!)

Nearly 140 maintenance and production employees there, the bulk of all workers, are no longer NutraSweet employees. They have been outsourced to a Greenville, S.C., company, GreenWood Inc., which has been contracted to run the facility. That usually means bad news, but the lack of grumbling from NutraSweet’s labor force indicates GreenWood appears to be doing a pretty good job since it took over operations last month.

GreenWood has similar contract agreements at other Augusta facilities, including IFF, Solvay, General Chemical, Landmark Aviation and next-door neighbor Monsanto.

HEARD ON THE STREET: Bob Richards Chevrolet is in the process of being sold to a Detroit-area dealer, Gordon Stewart, the president of Gordon Chevrolet. The phone message I left for Mr. Stewart last week has not been returned, so I have no further details. All I’ve heard is Mr. Richards wants to focus on his other properties, his Nissan dealership in Aiken and his Toyota dealership in Orangeburg, S.C.

TASTES LIKE CHICKEN: There’s no shortage of chicken-centric fast-food restaurants in Augusta. The preponderance of poultry in recent years has seen the entry of chains such as Wing Stop, Wild Wing Cafe and Raising Cane’s. Add them to Zaxby’s, KFC , Church’s and others, and there is no shortage of places for you to go out and get a chicken strip.
What if you feel like eating in?

Well, you’ll soon have that option too. Atlanta-based Wing Zone, which derives 60 percent of its business from delivering wings and other goodies that people tend to crave after a couple of beers , is scouting the Augusta area for real estate. Clint Lee, the company’s franchise director, said he believes Augusta is ripe for up to three Wing Zones.

“Augusta is very high on the radar for us,” he said.
The company has a franchisee, who is not from the area, interested in opening one or two stores that would complement a corporate-owned store that could open as soon as early 2008. Right now, Wing Zone is eyeing Washington Road and other predictable addresses.

When it pulls the trigger on a deal, you’ll hear it here first.

RADIO CHAOS: Expect a shake-up in Augusta’s radio market (another one?). Industry insiders are speculating on what will happen to Clear Channel’s WEKL-FM (102.3), which will be sold to satisfy federal regulations as the company prepares to merge with two private- equity firms.

The “Eagle 102” station, which is the classic-rock format, will be temporarily held by Aloha Station Trust LLC until it is sold to a permanent owner, which probably will be one of the market’s other two top dogs, Beasley Broadcast Group and Radio One. That might trigger another spinoff to comply with federal ownership regulations.

Local radio folks believe Clear Channel will transfer the station’s programming to its WIBL-FM (105.7), which is one of only two 100,000-kilowatt stations in the market.
Anybody out there remember when radio wasn’t such a nutty business?

TO ALL THE HIPSTERS: Today I turned 35.

I have moved from the 18-to-34 demographic to the 34-to-deceased demographic. I am, officially, no longer cool (assuming I was in the first place).

Please take me off your mailing list.

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(* Full disclosure: Lest I be accused on being on Monsanto’s payroll, I solemnly swear that I in no way have received, or intend to receive, monetary compensation from the company, nor do I own shares of the company’s stock. My only connection to Monsanto is that I am a regular purchaser of its Roundup brand herbicide, which works very well at killing the poison ivy in my backyard.)