Hormones and Milk: What You Should Know

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Recent hype regarding Starbuck’s transition over to rBGH-free milk has Monsanto, the maker of the synthetic hormone Posilac bovine somatotropin (bST), on the defense.   To prove the safety of their product, Monsanto funded a third-party research group who randomly selected 213 packages of milk from grocers’ shelves and proceeded to test their hormone, antibiotic, and nutrient levels.

Though their results showed no difference in the milks, many in the scientific community have written the study off as irrelevant.  It seems that none of the milks were confirmed as coming from cows treated with Posilac.  So what should we know about synthetic hormones in our milk supply?

The excerpt below offers an easy to read explanation of hormones and antibiotics in the milk industry and their impact.  It comes directly from the new guide book “Dairy Free Made Easy: Thousands of Foods, Hundreds of Recipes, and Dozens of Tips for Dairy Free Living.”  The author, Alisa Fleming, goes beyond the usual ‘what to eat’ lists with important information on understanding milk.  From nutrients to processing, Fleming wants to ensure that individuals know what they may and may not be missing when choosing a dairy-free diet:

“Organic milk is still cow’s milk.  It contains all of the same proteins (i.e. casein), fats (i.e. saturated), sugars (i.e. lactose), and cholesterol that may be a problem for allergies, intolerances, special diets, and general health.  However, for those who can and do consume even small amounts of dairy, organic milk appears to be well worth the extra cost.

Milk repeatedly makes the top ten lists for foods you should buy organic.  Why?  Beyond the many social implications and dangerous pesticides, U.S. Organic Milk is also guaranteed free of antibiotics and hormones.  Are hormones and antibiotics in the foods supply a true concern, or has the issue been stretched a bit too far by organic farmers and anti-milk campaigners?

I was curious to know, so I pooled together hard (unbiased) facts as evidenced by regulations and scientific studies.  Whether you would like to include some dairy products in your diet, or you could use another reason to go dairy-free, the following offers some important information on hormones and antibiotics in the dairy industry that you may find interesting:

Why dairy farmers use synthetic hormones…

  • Bovine Growth Hormone, or BGH, is a naturally occurring hormone in cows that stimulates the production of another hormone, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1). IGF-1 in turn initiates the production of milk.
  • The FDA approved the use of rBGH, a synthetic version of BGH, in 1993. The injection of rBGH into cows has become standard practice on many dairy farms, as it has the ability to unnaturally increase a cow’s output of milk by up to 20% (according to the rBGH manufacturer).  Higher production per cow means a better bottom line for the dairy farmer.

The effect of synthetic hormone use on humans…

  • Cows treated with rBGH produce greater levels of IGF-1. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that cows treated with rBGH produce milk with 2 to 10 times the levels of IGF-1 found in an untreated cow’s milk.
  • The IGF-1 found in cows is a bio-identical hormone to the IGF-1 produced by humans.
  • Dairy supporters argue that the IGF-1 in milk is not absorbed into the body; however, the consumption of cow’s milk has been scientifically shown to increase the serum level of IGF-1 in humans by 10%. In contradiction of their prior claims, the Dairy Council has even utilized a study confirming this increase in IGF-1 as a supporting document for bone health.
  • Higher levels of IGF-1 in humans have been linked to a significantly increased risk of Prostate, Colon, Lung and Breast Cancer.

Other consequences of hormone use…

  • Cows treated with rBGH were found to have a 25% increased risk of acquiring an udder infection (mastitis). Other major side effects (as noted by the manufacturer of rBGH) include infertility, lameness, cystic ovaries, uterine disorders, digestive disorders, lacerations, and calluses of the knee.

Cue the antibiotics…

  • An increase in infections results in an increase of antibiotic use, both legal and illegal.
  • Antibiotic residues in milk may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, and may be an important factor in the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Testing for antibiotics is limited in its effectiveness. Mandatory screenings by milk processors are only for a few select antibiotics (while dozens of types are in use). Additional testing is randomized and on more of an “audit” level.
  • Even for those batches, which pass inspection, low levels of antibiotic residues are typically permitted. The effects of these low levels, in addition to the potential antibiotic levels of untested milk, is largely unknown, but greatly feared.
  • In 2001, 6.7 million pounds of milk were dumped in Minnesota alone due to the detection of antibiotic residue. This was just from the 10% of loads randomly inspected on a quarterly review. One might either be shocked by the idea of how much “tainted” milk must have gone untested and continued on into our milk supply, or by the incredible amount of waste.

The 15 member countries of the European Union have banned the use of rBGH, as have Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. They have deemed rBGH as unsafe from both public health and veterinary perspectives. In 1999, Codex Alimentarius (the United Nations’ food safety organization), ruled in favor of the European moratorium on hormone treated milk products. So why on earth did the FDA approve rBGH, and why are dairy farmers in the United States, Mexico, and South Africa still routinely administering it? We as consumers are still waiting for an answer.

Since the effects of the hormones in untreated cows are not fully understood either, some may opt for a non-dairy lifestyle.  Those who do consume conventional milk should use caution; dairy manufacturers within the United States are not currently required to disclose the use of rBGH on their labeling.   In the end, it may be wise to reach for organic milk or at the very least those products specified as rBGH-free.  Be aware though, that these milks are still subject to homogenization and pasteurization [as explained in a prior chapter].”

For more information on milk, and living without it, Dairy Free Made Easy is available directly from Amazon.

 

References:

  1. “Dietary Changes Favorably Affect Bone Remodeling in Older Adults”; Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1999;99:1228–1233.
  2. “Insulin-like growth factors 1 and 2 in bovine colostrum. Sequences and biological activities compared with those of a potent truncated form.”; Biochem J. 1988 Apr 1;251(1):95-103 www.pubmed.org
  3. An rBGH Overview; Vermont’s Voice (a consumer advocacy organization).
  4. “Milk and the Cancer Connection” by Hans R. Larsen, MSc ChE; International Health News Issue 76, April 1998; Definition, BGH
  5. “MDA’s role in preventing antibiotic resistance” Minnesota Department of Agriculture

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

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