updated 2/18/2005 8:08:03 PM ET 2005-02-19T01:08:03

The No. 2 maker of chunk cheese in the nation has banned a genetically engineered growth hormone made by Monsanto Co. for dairy cows, despite what it says is escalating pressure from the chemical giant.

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The Tillamook County Creamery Association said Friday it has asked all of its 147 member farmers to halt use of the recombinant bovine somatotropin hormone, or rBST, because of customer requests to do so.

In a news release, the association assailed Monsanto for seeking to block the move with efforts ranging from a letter-writing campaign to hiring a lawyer.

"Tillamook County Creamery Association is facing an aggressive intrusion by Monsanto into the association's decision-making process," the association said.

Calls and e-mails to Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis were not returned Friday.

The rBST hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac, is used to boost milk production in dairy cows.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the hormone in 1993, allowing one of the first major biotechnology-related products to enter the nation's food supply.

But critics question the hormone's safety, and demand for milk and dairy products labeled rBST-free has continued to grow, said Rick North, spokesman for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The medical group estimates that about 10 percent to 15 percent of dairy farmers are using the hormone on their herds nationally, and the figure is about the same in Oregon.

In its statement, the creamery association said "Monsanto has been especially vigorous in trying to dissuade" the dairy cooperative from banning the hormone, and accused the company of trying "to drive a wedge" between the association and its members.

"In November, Consuelo Madere, president of Monsanto Dairy Business, took the extraordinary step of sending a letter directly to (Tillamook) members questioning the policy and seeking its reversal," the association said.

The dairy cooperative said that Monsanto also sent a lawyer to Oregon to meet with more than a dozen co-op members. The lawyer helped some association members prepare an amendment to the co-op's bylaws that would prevent the ban. The amendment also requested a special meeting that is expected to be scheduled with the next two weeks, the association said.

Tillamook, which makes cheese, sour cream, butter and other dairy products, had 2003 sales of $260 million.

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