For many, milk is nearly as fundamental as water—the definition of “wholesome” in a glass. The choice has traditionally been simple: whole or skim? But as the scientific and political debates about different kinds of milk increase, so do the options. The choices are confounding. In this first of a series of three on milk, find out the one sure thing we recommend about milk.
Health-conscious people, animal advocates, the scientific community, and the dairy industry all have very strong feelings about milk. I have seen debates among friends fierce enough to rival the Hatfields and McCoys: Organic vs. conventional, raw vs. pasteurized, animal vs. soy. And when you bring in the literature from professionals—oh boy.
In the midst of all the arguments, despite the conflicting information pelting us from non-dairy proponents on one side and dairy industry advocates on the other, our research has made one thing clear. If you drink cow’s milk, make sure it is free of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)!
The rBGH Hormone Story
Oh rBGH, you naughty little genetically engineered hormone. Developed by Monsanto in the 1980s and marketed under the name Posilac, rBGH (also called rSBT) was approved by the FDA in 1993. Approved by the FDA? Sounds good, safe even. However, in a strange twist of procedure, rBHG was tested on 30 rats for only 90 days—while most studies required by the FDA are performed on hundreds of rats and last for two years before approval is granted. How in the world can a genetically engineered hormone be deemed safe in 90 days?!
We won’t go into reports of Monsanto employees working for the FDA and all of the thrilling intrigue there…or the details about Monsanto’s history with horrifying chemicals…or Monsanto’s role in genetic modification.
Most of the World Has Banned It
No, we won’t go there—but we will tell you that Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and all 25 nations of the European Union have banned rBGH. Codex Alimentarius, the U.N. body that sets food safety standards, has refused to approve the safety of rBGH not once, not twice, but three times.
With rBGH Human Cancer Cells Can Multiply Faster
rBGH is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production by stimulating a growth hormone called Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). We humans absorb this IGF-1, and guess what, it makes our cells grow faster, including cancer cells. It doesn’t take a hypochondriac to worry about what extra doses of cell-growing hormones might do to a body. As it turns out, it is no surprise that numerous studies have determined that increased levels of this hormone are connected to increased risks of prostrate, breast, colon, pancreatic, and lung cancers.
With rBGH You’ll Get Cow Antibiotics in Your Milk
With the 10 to 15 percent increase in milk production from rBGH, also comes a whopping increase in the rates of mastitis, an infection of the udders. Along with the problem this presents to the poor cow, this affects our milk in two ways. To treat mastitis the infected cows are pumped with antibiotics, which can pass through the milk.
Some people have allergies to specific antibiotics and their unexpected presence in food can cause reactions. Also, frequent exposure to low level antibiotics can cause resistance to them so that they are ineffective when needed to fight a human infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overuse of agricultural antibiotics is the biggest contributor to food-borne, antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.
Beyond the possibility of antibiotics being passed through milk to humans—mastitis causes another substance to pass to the drinker as well. And this isn’t pretty. As with all infections, mastitis creates an increased somatic cell count—which is the nice way of saying pus. This may sound far-fetched at first, like vegan propaganda or an urban food myth—but the FDA has an actual acceptable level of somatic cells allowed in milk. So there you go. Up to 750,000 somatic cells per milliliter are allowed in milk. Yuck.
What You Can Do
We try to be pretty open-minded here, but when it comes to milk we have one guiding principal that we’ll go to the mat for: If you can buy organic, do. It costs more, but it is an important place to spend the money if you can.
If you have a choice between organic brands, buy from smaller local dairy farms rather than national brands. As well, if you are unable to buy organic try to purchase milk produced from smaller local dairy farms. Smaller farms rely less on industrial dairy practices and have lower infection rates. Since Monsanto has lawsuits against dairies that label their milk “rBGH-free” some cartons may not use that specific language. Look for “hormone free” and “antibiotic free.”
The lobbying powers of Monsanto and the dairy industry are exceptionally strong, as is the literature from the scientific and anti-dairy communities. It really boils down to a “he said-she said” scenario. But even without all of the statistics and scientific facts being batted around, at the very least, who wants to drink milk from cows treated with a genetically modified hormone to make them produce more milk—polluted milk from infected, aching cows? Strive for milk from natural, happy cows—milk as wholesome as milk should be.