A Washington-based group opposed to marketing a new, genetically engineered growth hormone for dairy cows asked yesterday for an independent, government-financed study to offset what it called research distortions and misinformation about the product.

In a petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration, the Foundation on Economic Trends said only an independent review could resolve new questions raised about the potential effect of bovine growth hormone (BGH) on the health of dairy cows.

Foundation President Jeremy Rifkin said "recent revelations . . . cast doubt on the adequacy, accuracy, candor and good-faith nature of some of the reported corporate/university research" on BGH.

As part of the FDA approval process, BGH -- known also as bovine somatotropin (BST) and methionyl-somatotropin (met-STH) -- is being tested in various states by four major chemical and drug companies in a multimillion-dollar race to market a product expected to send U.S. milk production soaring.

The development of BGH and its potential for boosting individual cows' milk output at a time of heavy surplus production has ignited intense controversy in agricultural, academic and political circles. Use of the hormone has increased cow output by 40 percent in some cases.

Rifkin's group petitioned the FDA last year, then sued the agency in April in an attempt to gain release of key health and environmental review data related to BGH. A decision in the suit is expected soon, Rifkin said yesterday.

The new petition was backed by David S. Kronfeld, a veterinarian and University of Pennsylvania professor of nutrition who has criticized procedures followed by companies and university researchers in the race to market BGH.

"I am in favor of the use of growth hormone, but they have not approached the research as would be done in the case of a medical drug," Kronfeld said yesterday. "They have gone at it in an economic sort of way."

He said that, after reviewing nine corporate-university long-term production trial reports, he concluded insufficient numbers of cows were tested to gain convincing data about health and reproductive effects of met-STH on the animals. He said adverse effects on animal reproductive efficiency and a higher incidence of mastitis showed up in the trials.