rBGH- and rBST-free: The War on Disclaimers
Look closely in the dairy aisle and you will inevitably see cartons of milk labeled “contains no rBGH” or “contains no rBST,” often followed by the disclaimer “no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-supplemented and non-rBST-supplemented cows.”
Seems pretty bizarre to market the fact that your milk doesn’t contain rBGH and then go on to state that there’s no empirical difference between it and rBGH treated milk. It may interest you to learn that the latter disclaimer–that there’s no proven difference between rBST and non-rBST treated cow milk–is the result of lawsuits brought by agricultural industry giant Monsanto against dairy farmers who make a point of marketing their non-rBGH treated dairy products as such. So why all the hubbub and litigation?
What Are rBGH and rBST?
First off, let’s clear up any confusion about what rBGH and rBST are. rBGH and rBST are actually two different names for the same thing. rBGH stands for recombinant bovine growth hormone, while rBST is short for recombinant bovine somatotropin. Both are chemically identical hormones and the terms are often used interchangeably. Monsanto Corporation engineered and manufactures the hormone, which causes cows to increase milk production by 10 to 15%.
The Controversy Surrounding rBGH and rBST
The dispute comes from evidence that rBGH (or rBST) carries potential health risks. In 1991, a non-profit farm advocacy group reported that cows treated with rBGH in a Monsanto-commissioned study at the University of Vermont were showing an unusually high rate of birth defects in their calves, as well as an increased incidence of mastitis–a bacterial infection of the udder.
The symptoms of mastitis include inflammation and the secretion of pus and blood into the milk. To avoid contamination and ensure the health of their cows, Monsanto began treating their cows with antibiotics. Antibiotics are also secreted into milk and may pose health risks to humans. FDA regulations rely on pasteurization to remove hormones, antibiotics, and bacteria from milk, but many critics allege that the FDA’s testing standards for hormonal and antibiotic content are inadequate.
rBGH Banned in EU, Commonwealth, Japan, and by Major American Retailers
To this day, the safety of rBGH in cows and humans remains a controversial matter. However, it has already been banned in every country of the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan–and many major American retailers are heeding consumer concerns as well. Safeway, Kroger, Walmart, and Starbucks have all stopped selling rBGH-treated milk.
[photocredit: Braums; Leo Blanchette]