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Synthetic Hormones in Dairy

Over the past decade, there has been a growing concern among American consumers about the association between synthetically produced hormones in dairy products and the possible health effects on cows and humans. At New Frontiers Natural Marketplace, part of our mission is to educate ourselves and others, so we have attempted to shed some light on the topic of hormones in dairy products.

Growth Hormone, also called Somatotropin, is a naturally occurring protein hormone produced in the pituitary gland of animals, including humans, which is essential for normal growth and development and health maintenance. Bovine Somatotropin (BST), also called Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), triggers nutrients to increase growth in young cattle and milk production in dairy cows.

In the late 1970s, with the advent of genetic engineering, it became technologically possible and financially feasible to artificially produce BST, using recombinant DNA technology. When injected into cows, it increases milk production by 10 to 15 percent.

The synthetically produced hormone is called rBST for short, or alternatively, rBGH, for recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. Monsanto bought the rights to rBGH in 1979, and over the next decade, spent more than $300 million developing it for the marketplace.

It was approved for use in 1993 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), despite evidence during the review process that showed cows injected with rBGH suffer abnormally high rates of mastitis, a painful infection of their udders.

The congressional watchdog General Accounting Office (GAO) expressed concern about the mastitis issue, stating that an increased incidence of mastitis would lead to increased usage of antibiotics, which could end up as residue in the nation’s milk supply. Unnecessary exposure to antibiotics can lead to a resistance to their intended effects by the bacterial or viral diseases they are supposed to fight off.

Researchers (during the review and approval process) also observed higher rates of hoof and leg injuries in treated cows, much higher rates of deformities and sickness in subsequent generations, and they noted that the rBGH cows required more inseminations to conceive.

Despite questions surrounding the health effects of rBGH on cows, no long-term studies on human health implications and a report by the GAO citing “serious flaws, conflicts of interest and ethics violations by the FDA throughout the review process,” rBGH was approved for sale on Nov. 5, 1993.

On Feb. 3, 1994, Monsanto began sales of rBGH to dairy farmers, under the brand name “Posilac.” On Feb. 7, 1994, the FDA issued labeling guidelines strongly recommending that dairy products could not be labeled “rBGH-free,” but instead would have to say that the milk (or cheese, or ice cream, or yogurt or butter) came from cows “not treated with rBGH.” Labels would also have to include a statement saying, “no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows.” (This latter requirement has since been dropped.)

A number of studies suggest there are differences between “treated” and “non-treated” milk, among which is that rBGH milk contains increased levels of insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Elevated levels of IGF-1 in humans have been linked to colon and breast cancer.

Posilac (which is now made and distributed by Eli Lilly) remains a popular and big-selling dairy animal drug in America, despite the ongoing controversy as to its safety. It has been banned in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and in the 27 countries of the European Union because of possible dangers to animal and human health.

The good news is, as increasing numbers of consumers and dairies choose to avoid rBGH, you can find labels that say “rBGH-free” or a similar variation. Organic milk is also rBGH-free.

You can find a huge selection of organic milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace, located at 320 So. Cambridge Lane in Flagstaff, and in Sedona and Prescott. FBN



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