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Unhappy Cows: The Hormones in Milk Controversy

unhappymilkcontroversy.jpgMonsanto are a happy company in the USA. They sell genetically modified seeds for crops grown in the US (banned in most other western countries) and are allowed to sell Bovine Growth Hormone, rBGH, for use in dairy cows (banned in most other western countries).

Cows injected with rBGH produce 10-25% more milk, making farmers very happy, considering the recent high prices they can sell milk for. The cows, however, are less happy. rBGH makes cows more likely to have foot problems and lameness, fertility problems, reactions at the injections site, and more likely to get mastitis. (Nursing moms, did you ever get mastitis? it’s AGONY.)

And what about consumers? By-products of rBGH do pass into milk. Heath Canada studies have concluded that rBGH cannot “biologically plausibly” affect humans, and Monsanto claims that pasteurization render it harmless to humans, but feeding growth hormones to adult animals has been shown to increase the risk of some cancers in animal studies. The drug is banned for use in Canadian cattle on animal welfare grounds.

Currently, milk from cows not injected with rBGH is labeled as such, so consumers can make a choice. Monsanto is hoping to change that though. A supposedly independent group of farmers called Afact is lobbying for changes in the law which will prevent labeling of rBGH-free milk as such. Turns out that Afact was organized by Monsanto. So far they haven’t succeeded. And in Pennsylvania, lawmakers actually tightened the regulations on milk labeling to make it more accurate as to whether hormones had been used.

rBGH-free milk is sold everywhere from Walmart to health food stores, so it’s available for almost every consumer for about the same price as rBGH milk. I’ve just been to SuperTarget: A half-gallon of Target brand milk (may contain rBGH) is $2.19, Kemp’s brand milk (no rBGH) is $2.39.

It’s an easy decision for me to choose which one to buy for my family, especially considering how much milk my toddler drinks.

And what about baby formula? The main ingredient of formula is milk. Enfamil, Good Start and Similac’s websites are devoid of any information about rBGH.

A Similac customer representative read me a statement that said Similac “have no control” over whether the milk they use in their formula has rBGH in it. She also told me “there are no traces of rBGH in formula” because it is inactivated in the formula making process. She also said “rBGH is turned into inactive fragments in the digestive tract”.

Enfamil and Nestle Good Start emailed me lengthy statements saying much the same thing – cows are injected with rBGH, we might be using some of their milk, but no rBGH ends up in our formula.

No studies have shown any risk to humans from drinking rBGH milk. Although, to be fair, not many studies have been done, and none on a large scale, so it’s probably not wise to claim it’s totally safe just yet.There’s other food issues that are proven to be harmful – like trans fats, or mercury in fish, pesticides in fruit and vegetables, and lead in our water, that’s it’s much more important to be aware of. But since I can avoid rBGH milk cheaply and easily, for my family’s sake and for the welfare of dairy cows, I’m certainly going to.

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