As of January 1, 2008, Pennsylvania will ban all labels on milk and dairy products that indicated they come from cows that haven’t been treated with artificial bovine growth hormone, also know as rBGH or rBST. State officials say that such labels are “confusing”.
Farmers use artificial bovine growth hormone to increase milk production. The U.S. government has long maintained that it is safe, but it is illegal in many other countries. Many American consumers dislike the idea of milk that comes from cows that are treated with artificial hormones, and many national grocery store chains have begun offering rBGH-free options, or stopped selling milk from rBGH-treated cows entirely.
In reaction, Monsanto, which manufactures rBGH, has spent more than a decade trying to persuade federal and state authorities to ban non-rBGH labels, and they have now managed to convince Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary to play it their way.
Wolff argues that “hormone free” labels are misleading, as cows produce hormones naturally. But even labels that are more carefully worded, such as “contains no artificial hormones” will be banned in Pennsylvania because Mr. Wolff says that there is no scientific test which can verify such a claim.
The ban will also extend to phrases such as “pesticide free” and “antibiotic free.” Wolff says such labels are confusing for consumers because they suggest milk without those labels is unsafe.
Mr. Wolff said his office had received many calls from confused consumers. However, his office could not provide a single survey showing that consumers were confused, or the name of even one consumer who had complained.
Update as of November 28, 2007: After strong public backlash, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s decision to ban ‘rBGH-Free’ dairy labels is under review. Gov. Ed Rendell‘s office initiated the review, and enforcement of the new rules, originally slated for January 1, 2008, will be delayed for at least one month.
Aside from the fact that drinking pasteurized milk is not in your best interest if you’re trying to stay healthy, the issue of truthful food labeling, and consumer free choice are still very important concerns.
Should you, as a consumer, have the freedom to choose freely between rBGH-laced milk and non-rBGH milk? And, if the answer is yes, shouldn’t the manufacturers be allowed to state what is (or is not) added to their milk to help you make that decision?
Consumer demand for milk that does not contain Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) forced many milk producers to stop using it. This latest tactic seems to be little more than Monsanto’s well-paid arm reaching out to take away your right to choose, and hence freeing them up to regain their lost market.
What is rBGH, and Why Should You Avoid it?
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is a genetically engineered drug, created by the Monsanto Corporation, which is injected into dairy cows to increase their milk production.
Monsanto started pushing farmers to inject rBGH in 1994. Repeated injections of rBGH artificially stimulate cows to produce 10 to 25 percent more milk than normal for a few years, but then their milk production declines dramatically. It also causes serious health problems for the cows and poses a health risk to consumers, especially children.
Monsanto has continued to maintain that rBGH is completely safe, despite the fact that research has found the opposite to be true. Europe and Canada has banned it completely due to its health risks, as it’s been found to increase the levels of cancer causing chemicals in the milk.
Milk derived from rBGH-injected cows contains dramatically higher levels of IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor), which is a risk factor for breast and colon cancer. IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization. IGF-1 has also been linked to:
- Premature growth stimulation in infants
- Glucose intolerance
- Juvenile diabetes
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in a classic move to protect Monsanto’s interests, didn’t even require that rBGH be adequately tested before allowing it on the market. Normally, a standard test of new biochemically produced products and animal drugs requires 24 months of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats.
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone – while increasing milk production for a short while – comes at a painful price for the cows. The cows’ udders swell and develop painful, bloody lesions -- an infection known as "mastitis" -- which is then treated with large doses of antibiotics. Not surprisingly, the very companies that produce rBGH add to their profits by also manufacturing antibiotics and tranquilizers, which they then sell to dairy farmers to combat these side effects -- which also end up in your milk.
What is Your Best Choice for Healthy Dairy?
Organic milk is not allowed to contain rBGH, but it is still pasteurized, which has its own health implications. Pasteurizing milk destroys healthy enzymes, diminishes vitamins, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, kills beneficial bacteria, and promotes pathogens.
From my perspective, there’s simply no rational justification to ever drink pasteurized milk, even organic pasteurized milk. Instead, I highly recommend drinking only raw milk, which is a wonderful, healthy whole-food.
If you're unable to find a local source for raw milk, visit the Real Milk site to find a provider close to you. You can also review this link for raw milk availability and restrictions by state. As Sally Fallon with the Weston A. Price Foundation notes, grass-fed cows, rather than those stuck in pens eating corn, are your healthiest, pathogen-free sources for raw milk.
Unfortunately, raw milk is also under serious attack with the newly signed California state bill AB1735, which might eliminate raw milk in California and set a precedent for other states to follow suit. If you missed my article on this important matter, please review it now, to find out how you can join the effort to stop this anti-health law from taking effect.