John Stauber Papers Related to rBGH, 1970s-2001 (bulk 1988-1995)


John Clyde Stauber was born in 1953 in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Stauber grew up in a politically conservative family, but became involved in anti-Vietnam War and environmental causes in high school. He graduated from Marshfield High School in 1971 and intentionally decided not to attend college, instead turning to social change activism and the back to the land movement. Stauber bought a tract of land in Ashland County in northern Wisconsin, where he found a like-minded community of environmental and peace activists. The grassroots organizations he subsequently founded or co-founded include the Coalition for Economic Alternatives (1973-1979), Citizens National Forest Coalition (1978-1979?), and the anti-nuclear organization Stop Project ELF (1979-1985). After stints of living in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s, he moved there in 1980 and served as the development director for the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua (1985-1988). From 1988 to early 1994, he worked as a consultant on the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) issue and then as the Midwest coordinator for the Pure Food Campaign of the Foundation on Economic Trends, an organization headed by activist Jeremy Rifkin. Stauber was also involved in anti-rBGH efforts with other organizations: the Coalition on Responsible Technology, a group organized in April 1989 by activists including dairy farmer John Kinsman, and as national coordinator of the Humane Farming Association's anti-rBGH campaign in 1994.

Although dairy scientists knew that injecting bovine somatotropin into cows could significantly increase milk production, it was only the introduction of genetic engineering that made the manufacturing process cost-efficient. As pharmaceutical companies developed commercial versions of recombinant bovine somatotropin (as the genetically engineered versions were known to distinguish them from the naturally occurring hormone), debate over the pros and cons of using the drug increased. In 1988, State Senator Russ Feingold introduced a bill that would require labeling of any milk produced using rBGH, while also advocating for a more comprehensive ban on the drug. At the end of April 1990, Wisconsin became the first state in the country to impose a moratorium on the sale or use of rBGH in dairy cows until June 1, 1991, although FDA approval was ultimately delayed until 1993.

A project of the Foundation on Economic Trends (FET), the Pure Food Campaign (PFC) was founded in 1992, to raise awareness of the rBGH issue and its perceived threat to the nation's milk supply. One focus of the campaign was keeping milk sold or distributed in school cafeterias free of rBGH milk. Other concerns included the uncertain implications for human health, animal welfare issues, the effects on public perception of milk as an untainted, “pure” food, and the threat to small family farms if the use of rBGH resulted in an oversupply of milk and lower milk prices were paid to dairy farmers. The rBST product manufactured by Monsanto was the first to be approved by the FDA in November 1993, however, a moratorium delayed sales for 90 days. In response, the PFC planned a national boycott of rBGH products, held “milk dumping” events, organized petitions, and made direct appeals to food companies, processors, and grocery stores not to use or sell products produced with rBGH. FET and PFC also supported the “Dump the National Dairy Board Campaign,” an effort which arose in part from anti-rBGH sentiment among some dairy farmers.

Meanwhile, debate between pro- and anti-rBGH activists continued. In January 1994, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) approved a rBGH-free label for cheese maker Cedar Grove Cheese, which only used milk from farmers who pledged not to use rBGH in the management of their dairy herds. On February 3, 1994, the 90-day moratorium on the sale of rBGH products expired; Stauber and others mobilized a national boycott of rBGH milk and dairy products. A group of dairy farmers, rBGH activists, and the Foundation for Economic Trends filed suit in federal district court, contending that the FDA had not taken into account the hormone's effect on human health and its economic impact on small dairy farmers, among other concerns. Activists also held a widely publicized milk dumping event at the Capitol Square headquarters of the milk processors association Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives on the same date. Although earlier attempts to label milk produced using rBGH were unsuccessful, anti-rBGH activists supported legislation that allowed labeling of milk produced without the hormone.

In 1993, Stauber founded the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a watchdog organization which he directed for the next sixteen years. The CMD also published a magazine called PR Watch (1993-2008). By the spring of 1994, Stauber was no longer actively involved in anti-rBGH activities, although he continued to monitor events related to genetic engineering.

Among the books Stauber has co-written (with Sheldon Rampton) are: Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry (1995), Mad Cow U.S.A.: Could the Nightmare Happen Here (1997), Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future (2002), Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq (2003), Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State (2004), and The Best War Ever: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Mess in Iraq (2006).

In 2009, he retired from CMD and is currently an independent writer and editor.

A Note on Terminology: Researchers will note the use of various terms for bovine somatotropin throughout the collection: BST, bST, rBST (terms preferred by manufacturers, the National Dairy Board, most government officials, and public relations firms), and rBGH, BGH, or bGH (bovine growth hormone, preferred by Stauber and other BGH opponents).