He’s stepping down from the Campaign for Safe Food where he led the effort to eliminate recombinant bovine growth hormone from milk products
January 13, 2011 -- Rick North has a passion for democracy that took an unexpected turn when conservative Republicans gained control of Congress in November.
He’d already been perturbed after the Supreme Court gave corporations unbridled authority to make unlimited campaign donations. But the November election convinced North to fight corporate and special interest influence in our political system.
“I’m fine with private enterprise – many of my best friends work for small or large businesses. But I have a major problem with corporations being equated with people and with our one person-one vote democracy being destroyed and replaced with one dollar-one vote.”
On January 28, he steps down as project director of the Campaign for Safe Food, a program he created under the auspices of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“I’m going after the head of the octopus, the corporate influence in our government and intend to counteract that in any way I can,” he said. “The resulting flood of secret corporate and special interest money in our recent elections is only the beginning. I’m not just afraid of losing elections, but of losing our democracy itself. This really hit me hard after the election. I just had a gut feeling I had to do something.”
He’ll spend the next few months doing research, deciding where he best fits in – Public Citizen and Common Cause are high on his priority list.
For the past seven and a half years, North’s been focused on food safety. He led a national effort to eliminate recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) from our milk supply, which is injected into cows to produce more milk yet has potential health consequences. And he fought to create rules that alert and protect farmers and consumers from contamination by genetically-engineered biopharmaceutical crops.
“As much as I’ve loved trying to cut off a major tentacle, rBGH, genetically- modified food and industrial agriculture, now I want to confront the source,” he said.
North became introduced to corporate power while working for the American Cancer Society as CEO of its Oregon division. In 1996, he was a leader in the fight to pass Measure 44 which increased taxes on cigarettes. “That’s where I got my start banging my head against corporations. I never thought I’d see a corporation as bad as Phillip Morris, but I hadn’t seen Monsanto yet.”
Monsanto produced rBGH, and tried to convince eight state legislatures or the Department of Agriculture to restrict or ban labeling so people wouldn’t know those products contained the artificial hormone. Later, Monsanto sold rBGH to Elanco, a division of the Eli Lilly drug company. “Our coalition fought them in every state and beat them back.”
In Oregon, he persuaded dairies to stop using rBGH, among them Tillamook Cheese, Dairgold, Eberhard’s Dairy in central Oregon and Alpenrose Dairy. He waged a grassroots public education campaign and encouraged consumers to stop purchasing products that contained the artificial hormones. Some of the bigger grocery chains – Fred Meyer and Safeway – now sell milk that’s rBGH free, but their yogurt still contains the hormone, he said.
After succeeding in Oregon and Washington, North launched a nationwide campaign to remove rBGH from dairy products, which has met with success. “There’ve ripple effects all over the country,” he said, pointing to Starbucks which he called “wonderful to work with,” along with Dannon and Yoplait Yogurt.
North estimates that 75 percent of milk and 75 percent of yogurt is rBGH free, but with the exception of a few products -- ice cream, cheese and butter – many still contain the artificial hormone. Oregon Ice Cream Company was the latest company to go rGBH free. Breyers and Dreyer’s haven’t come around yet.
What are the health effects of rBGH? It hurts cows by increasing their metabolism, pushing them beyond what they can do and increasing painful and debilitating diseases such as mastitis and lameness, North said.
Just as disturbing, this hormone leads to increased antibiotic resistance, and, in excessive amounts may promote breast, prostate, colon, lung and other cancers.
Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of more than 450 organizations, came out against rBGH in 2005 and has been working with hospitals around the country, asking them to eliminate the hormone. North also consulted with the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association.
When it comes to production of genetically-engineered biopharmaceutical crops – none of which are grown in Oregon -- North insisted there be tough regulations so they could not contaminate our food supply. Now it's strongly recommended that such crops must be grown in a secure greenhouse, not an open field.
He introduced legislation in 2005 which passed the Senate but stalled in the House. However, the issue raised so much visibility Governor Kulongoski appointed a task force, which came up with those safety rules.
The Department of Agriculture rules are woefully inadequate, he said, and there’s a lack of federal government oversight. “We wanted to step up with state rules that would be far more protective which we did, and the last thing we want are drugs in our food,” North said. “These are untested drugs that have never gone through FDA clinical trials to demonstrate they’re safe and effective. They’re all experimental. Now there are a lot more hoops to jump through.”
Bookmark/Search this post with