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What's Hidden in Your Milk

The Historic FoodieHave you ever considered there could be anything other than fresh natural milk in the dairy products you purchase at the market? Artificial growth hormones made their way into our milk supply in 1994 and, with the exception of some organic milk, quickly became standard. (BabyCenter.com) How can this be and more importantly why?

Perhaps it's time to consider other products, such as organic milk or vegan alternatives to dairy. 

Cows injected with recombinant bovine somatropine (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) apparently produce approximately one gallon per day more milk than cows not treated with it – at least for a while.

From a farmer’s perspective, a little research (a few websites are listed at the end of this article) shows that the hormones aren’t good for the cows and they certainly aren’t good for people. Cows have more problems with cystic ovaries and uterine disorders, lower birth weight and shorter periods of gestation, and a greater risk of clinical mastitis (an udder infection) that requires antibiotics to clear up. (BabyCenter.com)

What does such an inflammation mean for our milk supply? “The most obvious symptoms of clinical mastitis are abnormalities in: The udder such as swelling, heat, hardness, redness, or pain; and the milk such as a watery appearance, flakes, clots, or pus.”  (Institute for Responsible Technology) Yes, you read correctly.

Treated cows may begin to have reduced milk yield, increased body temperature, lack of appetite, sunken eyes, diarrhea and dehydration, and reduction in mobility due to pain in the udder or lethargy. Studies also indicate that while the overall protein content in the milk may be unaffected, changes in the types of protein present may be affected by the leaching of low-quality blood serum proteins into the milk. Casein, an important protein, can be significantly reduced and casein is closely linked to calcium levels in the milk. ("Why A2 Milk in the UK?" "Casein: The Disturbing Connection Between This Dairy Protein and Your Health")

Why did Breyers Ice Cream recently announce that it is going to stop making ice cream from milk impregnated with growth hormones due to consumer demand?

Canada, the European Union (some 27 countries), Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have had bans in place on rBGH, yet the U.S. has no restrictions, and Monsanto, the producer of the hormones, filed a lawsuit against a dairy that advertised its milk contained no growth hormones. It seems pointing out that a brand of milk comes from hormone-free cows causes consumers to wonder what is in other brands and how consumption affects them. 

The potential for health endangerment from these dairy products varies greatly from one source to another, and like many situations it comes down to the consumer making an educated decision on whether they’re willing to chance it. A 10-percent increased risk may not send up red flags for a consumer, but my fear is that a 10-percent higher risk with milk combined with a 5- or 10-percent increased risk with another product may add up to a significantly higher risk by the end of the day. 

The American Cancer Society's website downplays the risk of increased levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in milk produced by cows that have received growth hormone, but concludes its report with, “The evidence for potential harm to humans is inconclusive.” They also conclude that the increased use of antibiotics necessary to clear up rBGH induced mastitis in cows does promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the extent of harm in humans is unclear. We’re being told not to over-use antibiotics because it may have the same affect, but it’s OK to pass on antibiotics to our children through the milk they drink? 

What is IGF-1? An elevated content of IGF-1 has been suggested to have adverse implications for human health and cancer frequency. (Institute for Responsible Technology

Milk from rBGH-treated cows does have much higher levels of IGF-1, according to the website of the Institute for Responsible Technology, and puts consumers at “a high risk factor for breast, prostate, colon, lung and other cancers.” They feel that levels of IGF-1 can be up to 10-percent higher than in milk from un-treated cows. Their studies indicated that milk from rBGH-treated cows with increased IGF-1 levels may increase the rate of fraternal twin births in humans. In the U.S., the number of fraternal twins was said to have grown at twice the rate as the UK where rBGH is banned.

Farmers Pledge The Institute for Responsible Technology website notes that after being sued by Monsanto in 2003, Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy’s farmers’ pledge, “No Artificial Growth Hormones,” had a sentence appended stating that, according to the FDA, no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from treated and untreated cows.  

The Institute for Responsible Technology says the studies showed milk from treated cows did contain increased IGF-1 levels and claim further that the additional wording added to the Oakhurst label was written by the FDA's deputy commissioner of policy, Michael Taylor, previously Monsanto's outside attorney who, after running policy at the FDA, became vice president of Monsanto.

updated farmers pledge 

How do these situations come about?  Perhaps because consumers have been too complacent and let big business decide what goes into our food. Doesn’t some agency control the safety of food additives? Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

On Oct. 25, 1998, Phil Angell, director of corporate communications for Monsanto, was quoted by the New York Times Magazine (in an article by Michael Pollan) saying, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food … Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” The FDA, however, issued this statement, Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104 (1992):  “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”

Concerned consumers should definitely read the entire Institute for Responsible Technology report for themselves. Be sure to follow the links to fact sheets on rBGH, and to reports from such credible sources as the Oregon Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Consider choosing organic milk or look at online lists for brands of dairy from hormone-free cows and the stores that sell them.

Resources:

DairyCo Wales

Prevention.com

Grist

American Cancer Society

Breast Cancer Fund

Institute for Responsible Technology

Twins UK

Baby Center

TED Case Studies

Center for Food Safety

Science Blogs

Organic Valley

Cornell University

Council for Responsible Genetics

Daily Express

WRCB-TV

One Green Planet

British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy

Mother Jones

The Huffington Post