Ohio Ruling Allows for Labeling of Hormone-free Milk
Did you know…
- some US cows are treated with genetically engineered hormones (rBGH/rBST) to increase milk yield,
- these hormones are banned in most other countries,
- it is illegal to label milk from cows not treated with hormones as rBGH-free in some states?
Ohio used to be one of these states, but a court has recently overturned this ban. This is a meaningful move, and you can bet that the makers of rBGH are going to fight back.
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) and rBST (recombinant bovine somototrophin) are genetically engineered synthetic growth hormones used to increase the lactation period of cows. Each cow yields more milk, so theoretically, a farmer would need fewer cows to meet demands if he/she used rBGH.
It was originally developed and marketed by agribusiness giant Monsanto…surprise! Then sold to Eli Lilly. And guess what. They don’t want milk companies who do not use rBGH to label their milk as such (they say it implies something is wrong with rBGH), despite some evidence that this stuff may not be as benign as Monsanto’s original research wants you to think it is.
Labeling of milk from cows treated with rBGH
The Ohio court is basically telling the corporations to take a hike and allowing milk to be labeled as rBGH-free. The case determined that there is indeed a difference between milk from rBGH-free cows and cows treated with rBGH.
Previously, Monsanto had sued multiple farms and governments trying to prevent labeling milk as rBGH-free. According to them, when a company labels a product as rBGH-free, it is implying that there is something wrong with milk from cows treated with rBGH…and if you thought that, then maybe you wouldn’t want to buy milk from rBGH cows and then they wouldn’t make money off of it.
Their research says nothing is different about it. Some independent research begs to differ.
Some of the key differences are:
- Milk produced when cows go beyond their natural lactation period has increased fat content and decreased protein levels.
- Milk from cows treated with rBGH increases the amount of IGF-1 in the milk – an insulin-like growth factor that is very similar in humans and cows. Increased levels of IGF-1 may be linked to increased risk of breast, colon and prostate cancer.
Some other problems stemming from rBGH use are:
- Cows treated with rBGH have calves with an increased number of deformities.
- rBGH is correlated with an increased occurrence of mastitis – a bacterial infection of the udder – which may lead to (gross warning) blood and pus in the milk.
- Mastitis causes farmers to use antibiotics on cows, and increased antibiotic use may lead to bacterial resistance.
- Increased milk yield puts extra stress on cows.
If I were a milk drinker, these are not things I would want associated with my milk, and I would want to know where my milk came from. (Here are some options for milk alternatives.)
The National Institute of Health supported the FDA opinion that milk and meat from cows supplemented with rBST is safe for human consumption, but this, at least in my opinion, should be taken lightly as Monsanto has extremely powerful lobbyists and has more or less infiltrated the US government.
More facts and stats…
- rBGH was banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most of Europe, by 2000.
- A 2007 USDA Dairy Survey estimated rBGH use in 17.2% of cows.
- The average increase in milk output ranges from 11%-16%, but mastitis occurrence increases by nearly 25% and fertility drops by 40%.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to label foods that are treated with genetically engineered products rather than having to label foods that aren’t adulterated?
*This version corrects that Posilac, the rBST product developed by Monsanto, was sold to Eli Lilly.
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons by JelleS