Matt Wuerker THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 MARCH 17, 2000 FEATURE The Land of Milk and Money BY MICHAEL KING Those celebrity milk mustaches are not what they seem. That’s one message from reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, fired in 1997 from their jobs with Florida television station WTVTTampa, when their investigative series on the effects of hormone additives in dairy production ran afoul of station managers and the Monsanto Corporation. Monsanto makes Posilac, the trade name of the most widely distributed form of artificially synthesized, “recombinant Bovine milk production. According to Monsanto and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is “no significant difference” between milk produced with or without the use of rBGH; according to the series produced by Akre and Wilson but pulled from production by WTVT, the differences are significant enough to get Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Akre and Wilson \(who are marmonth, telling their story and soliciting public support for their whistleblower lawsuit against WTVT, filed in April of 1998 and scheduled for trial this June. The reporters say they were fired because they refused the station’s demands to edit their stories in such a way as to broadcast false or misleading information, which would be in violation of federal law as well as Federal Communication Commission regulations, both of which require broadcasters to operate in the public interest. Under Florida’s whistleblower statute, employees have a right to sue their employers if they believe they were fired for refusing to break the law. The station’s managers insist that they made a good-faith effort to edit the milk stories, but that Akre and Wilson were uncooperative and their reports remained too “biased and one-sided” for broadcast \(in the spring of 1998, a few months after their dismissal, an rBGH series produced by another reporter but partly based upon Akre and Wilson’s previous work was lawsuit, the station insists the reporters were fired for “unreasonable and intemperate behavior [which] did not advance [WTVT’ s] interests in providing quality news programming to its viewers.” \(It’s worth noting, in the context of “quality news programming,” that WTVT is owned by the Fox Network home to Rupert Murdoch, if-it-bleeds-it-leads local newscasts, and “When Animals Attional assault on its editorial freedom, and the station’s lawyers have recruited Don Heider, a former television reporter and currently a U.T.Austin journalism professor, to testify as an expert witness on the station’s behalf. So what you get, in the lawsuit now pending before Florida’s thirteenth judicial circuit court, are two stories for the price of one: the adulteration of the public food supply, and the adulteration of public information. ane Akre and Steve Wilson air opened their recent Austin appearances by displaying a magazine ad photo of Donna Shalala, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services complete with milk mustache, courtesy of “America’s Dairy Farmers and Milk Processors.” “How is it,” asked Wilson, “that the person charged with regulating a product in this case with checking the safety of milk should get involved with advertising that product?” To the reporters, the Shalala photo \(subsequently discontinued the all too common duplicity of government “regulation” of industry. It may not be precisely the fox who is guarding the henhouse, but the fox certainly has very good friends in high places. That was one of the major thrusts of “The Mystery in Your Milk,” the series that Tampa viewers never saw: that when it came to Monsanto and its chemical wonders, the F.D.A., rather than act as an impartial defender of the public health, effectively collaborated with the company’s determination to get its product on the market before it was demonstrated to be free of negative human health consequences. The major allegations of the series included the following: a Despite serious scientific questions about the possible long-term
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