I’m sure that there are some shots that cows need. Maybe there are some vaccinations designed to help stop the spread of disease. Perhaps there are some lifesaving medicines administered directly into the bloodstream. I readily admit that I don’t know a lot about animal husbandry. Or medicine.
But there is one shot that dairy farmers started to give to cows to increase their profits. And that shot contained recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH. This hormone is designed to increase a cow’s milk supply. Which sounds fine and dandy.
Except that I don’t like it.
I am no medical expert. So I cannot give you my evaluation of the data on both sides of the rBGH issue. The people who are opposed to the growth hormone says it does horrible things to people. Some also argue it’s not so good for the cows and results in the animals needing more antibiotics. The people who support the growth hormone say that milk produced by injected cows is identical to milk produced by uninjected cows.
So in theory, it is unfair to say, “rBGH is in almost every dairy product on supermarket shelves.” Rather, one would be more correct to say, “Milk produced by cows treated with rBGH is in almost every dairy product on supermarket shelves.”
As a side note, the practice of using rBGH is also prohibited in a host of other countries. Although I suppose that’s just my negative Nellie coming out. I could just have easily said there are other countries that also permit the use of rBGH in milk production.
Still, I’m happy to let dairy producers manage their own business. If they want to treat their cows to this hormone, it’s their call. Choosing whether to buy it is mine.
The good news in this case is that milk producers are responding to consumer response, and are moving away from using artificial growth hormones. It is getting much easier to find fluid milk, even at Walmart, that was made without the use of rBGH.
The bad news is that most food manufacturers haven’t seemed to keep pace. Unless you are buying organic, it is difficult to find products made of milk that use untreated milk. And organic isn’t a magic bullet. Those products can come with a different set of problems.
Next time you are in the market, take a look. Yogurt, butter, cheese, ice cream, pudding, whipped cream, sour cream, and cream cheese all are devoid of the consumer friendly label, “Made with milk from cows not treated with rBST/rBGH.” That in turn affects everything your local neighborhood family-style restaurant makes with these ingredients. Pizza, ice-cream cakes, cheesecake, tacos, pastry, Boston cream pie, tacos, cream of mushroom soup, lobster bisque, fettuccini Alfredo, penne with vodka sauce, you name it.
There is even positive news coming on the yogurt front, although you would have to be paying very close attention to know it. Here is what General Mills had to say on the matter:
As of August 2009, General Mills has made the commitment to eliminate milk sourced from cows treated with rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), a synthetic hormone also referred to as rBGH, in the production of its category-leading Yoplait® yogurts.
For the backstory, and some much more inflammatory rhetoric against rBGH, click here.
You may not have noticed because this commitment from General Mills is being left off the Yoplait packaging for legal reasons. And I have to say, I’m not terribly comfortable with that. When a company prints something on their packaging they are bound to abide to it. It’s a consumer promise that is much more tangible and difficult to back away from, than a page on the internets.
On the other hand, Monsanto is on the other side of the rBGH issue, and I can’t entirely blame a General Mills for trying to avoid a legal challenge from Monsanto. Especially since the latter hasn’t been shy to pursue litigation against those who threaten its profits.
Luckily I think Yoplait yogurt is gross anyway, but out of respect for their trying to do a good thing, I will wait at least a week before calling them out on their product. My working title is “Science in a Cup.” Catchy, no?