When it was first introduced, some diary farmers saw this as a panacea. They would be able to produce more milk using fewer cows. Hooray! Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that the use of the hormone led to severe and painful infections in the udders of the cows. Well, that’s okay, right? I mean, just give those cows a big ol’ injection of antibiotics, and you’re good, right?
Except. Those growth hormones and those antibiotics (along with some puss from the infections) makes its way into the milk. Now, I would imagine that the pasteurization process would pretty much kill off anything living in the puss. But still. Who wants some puss with their milk? And the pasteurizing does nothing about the hormones and antibiotics. Those just hang out in the milk until you ingest them, and then they hang out in your body.
Proponents of rBST (mostly Monsanto Co.) say that milk produced using this hormone is no different than milk produced without it. Except that it isn’t. That hormone provides an extra amino acid, and that extra amino acid is consumed by anyone and anything drinking milk from a cow treated with rBST. So, to say that there’s no difference is false, at best, and deceptive at worst. (Monsanto led the charge against labeling milk that came from cows treated with rBST as such, and won. They lost their fight against those who wanted to label their milk as NOT coming from cows treated with the hormone.)
rBST is new enough that researchers haven’t had time to study the effects of it on humans. The FDA has approved it in 1993 as being safe for humans. Of course, they also approved the IUD, Vioxx, Phen-Fen, Saccharine...oh, the list does go on. So, you’ll excuse me if I don’t blindly trust the FDA’s seal of approval. Opponents of rBST argue that it does have some effect on humans, and they attribute some of the rise in rates of early puberty to the hormone. Still others claim that the constant exposure to antibiotics through diary products has led, in part, to the rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Given these drawbacks, it’s good news to me then that the suppliers of 40% of California’s milk will stop all use of the hormone by August of this year. Recently, consumer groups successfully lobbied the Starbucks chain to stop using milk from cows treated with rBST. These same groups successfully lobbied northern California Safeway stores to offer milk from cows not treated with rBST. Oregon’s Tillamook Creamery has long been an opponent of the hormone (which might explain why their cheese is SO good!).
Dairy farmers say that this will cause the price of production to increase, which will lead to an inevitable increase for the consumer. Many consumers already pay a premium at the grocery story for these dairy products. However, as a long time Trader Joe’s shopper, I can say that I pay less for a half gallon of their rBST-free milk than I do for the junky stuff at a regular grocery store. Go figure. (I have noticed, though, that I have a hard time finding cream and half-and-half that is rBST-free.)
So there you have it. Healthier milk, coming to a grocery store near you.