Lauren Magdaleno

Steven Marx

English 134

Essay 5: Contested Territory


Milk: Does it really do the body good?


                  Past the eight acres of Cal Poly’s organic vegetation fields and wild orchards, which line Mt. Bishop Road, stands the university’s Eugene and Rachel Boone Dairy Science Complex. The student-designed and managed unit is one of the three most recognized dairy science programs in the United States, and houses the number one program on the west coast. Here, students are directed by nine Dairy Science professors who assist them in artificially inseminating, raising, milking, feeding, and managing purebred cattle through a “hands-on” experience.[1]

                  Two buildings are visible upon entering the Dairy Science Complex parking lot. On the right is the Dairy Products Technology Center, or Dairy Plant. This structure was completed in 1996, for 7.5 million dollars. Classes are held in this building each day, in which students get the opportunity to work with advanced technology for lab and research studies. The Dairy Plant is also the site of Cal Poly’s Creamery, where students themselves produce the milk, cream, cheese, cottage cheese, and butter sold at the university’s Campus Market, and Downtown San Luis Obispo’s Farmers’ Market. This is the only building not open for tours because of necessary sanitation requirements.[2]

The second building, to the left of the parking lot, is the Dairy Cattle Instructional Center, which was completed in 1992, at the cost of 4.5 million dollars. Upon entering the two-story building, visitors get to view a room displaying numerous awards the Jerseys and Holsteins received. The trophies and plaques are clear evidence that Cal Poly’s cattle are nationally ranked for their type of breed, or the amount of milk they produce.[3] Three labs for microbiology, nutrition, and physiology are located through a hallway to the right of the display room.[4] Through the same hallway the dairy’s milking parlor can be reached.

 On the second floor, meeting rooms and classrooms are set up, along with an advanced computer system containing applications software that helps manage the dairy. Large glass windows line the left side of the hallway upstairs, through which the

Dairy’s milking parlor can be viewed. A sign hangs above the parlor and faces the windows, to inform onlookers that they are observing the “Double Eight Rapid Exit Herringbone Parlor.” From the floor above, fake bird calls are faintly heard being played over an intercom in the parlor. The bird calls are used to scare away the thousands of birds that raid the unit everyday. These fake calls prevent the spread of the infectious diseases the birds could pass on to the dairy cows, such as the intestinal disease, Salmonella. [5]

                  The parlor has 16 cow slots—eight on each side—where cows stand during the milking process. When the cows first enter, the dairy’s software computers electronically identify them by the number encoded on the transponder worn around their neck. Once recognized by the computer system, the cows go through a pre-milking machine that preps and cleans them to better enable the flow of milk. Next, small cups sanitize each teat in iodine, and the cow is fully prepared for milking. When the cow finishes milking, sensors remove the pumps from each teat. Immediately after, the milk is taken from the parlor to be cooled and sanitized, going through the pasteurization procedure: cool, heat, cool.[6]

                  Behind the Dairy Cattle Instructional Center is the Hospital and Maternity Barn. Cows at this location are: sick, about to give birth, or have given birth. Many of the unhealthy cows are overweight, which causes them to get sick more often and die sooner than others. Ninety-nine percent of the pregnant cattle were artificially inseminated by students in the dairy science major. After the cows deliver their baby calves, student-dairy managers continually check on their health. The mother cow is not released from the Hospital and Maternity Barn until her temperature returns to a normal level for four consecutive days. After she is released, the students gain the responsibility of raising her calves.

                  One of the major controversies that the Dairy Science Unit deals with is the use of the recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) or the recombinant Bovine Somatotropin Hormone (rBST)—a mock version of the BGH. The Bovine Growth Hormone is a natural protein that is produced by the hypophyseal in cattle. The Dairy Industry, in an attempt to raise their profit margins, is injecting rBGH into cows every couple of weeks, to enhance the production of milk from 10 percent to 15 percent. [7]

                  The Monsanto Corporation is the producer of the “genetically engineered” Bovine Growth Hormone and claims that the rBGH or rBST is not a harmful supplement for cows or humans. Monsanto, with the FDA approval of the hormone, says, “…that milk from cows supplemented with rBST is the same as other milk.” The Monsanto Institution gives Cal Poly’s dairy one-hundred thousand dollars, each year, for injecting its cows with the recombinant Somatotropin Hormone (rBST).[8] Professor Les Ferreira, head of Cal Poly’s Dairy Science Department, expresses his support of Monsanto, stating, “Dairies who use it [rBST] are the most successful and best managed.”

                  Opponents, such as the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), disagree with the extensive use of hormones to increase milk and beef production. On their website,, the OCA mentions the growing number of people who are becoming concerned with the use of the Bovine Growth Hormone. Many feel that the use of this hormone will not only be harmful for the cow injected, but may even be a risk to human health. In fact, the OCA website mentions that meat containing the growth hormone was completely restricted from Europe in 1989, after studies showed that the hormone was a cancer-causing substance.[9] Also, results from a more recent study on growth hormones from Ohio State University, pointed out that these agents caused an increase in cancer growth. [10]

                  Another opposing group of the Bovine Growth Hormone is the Friends of the Earth, mentioned on the OCA webpage. The Friends of the Earth advise consumers to purchase organic milk products in order to avoid the growth hormones known for being hazardous to human health and reducing the purity levels in milk. All organic milk is taken from cows who have never received any kind of medication and who eat only of organically grown feed. A half gallon of organic milk, at Vons supermarket, sells for $3.99, two dollars more than a half gallon of non-organic 2% reduced fat milk; however, no hormones or potential carcinogens can be found within it.

                  Many large dairy corporations disagree with injecting cows with rBST, as well as marketing products containing the hormone. Producers Dairy, one of the largest dairies on the west coast, does not sell products with rBST, and clearly labels their products to fully inform their customers. For example, their Grab ‘N Go milk bottles—and other products—display small Producers Dairy certified blue ribbons which read, “This Product DOES NOT Contain the Growth Hormone rBST.” Another big corporation, Ben & Jerry’s—a company Producers Dairy distributes milk to—also refuses  to use the milk from rBST-injected cows in their products.[11]

The Federal Drug Administration approves the use of the Bovine Growth Hormone and says that it is not harmful to humans. Beverley Corey discusses the matter in her article, “Bovine Growth Hormone: Harmless to Humans,” posted on the FDA website.[12] In it she mentions that rBST is not an active hormone in humans; therefore, people can safely consume milk and beef from cattle injected with the supplement without having to worry about any impairment to their health. The FDA even includes a label on milk products that reads, “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST treated cows.” To further suggest that the hormone is safe, she brings up an ironic subject, saying that the need people have for organic milk products is “nostalgic fiction,” since we no longer take our milk directly from the cow’s udder—it’s only natural state. She points out that many people are against this biotechnology, but quickly rebuts the argument by saying that any milk that is pasteurized, homogenized, or fortified (with vitamin D) is only an effect of the advanced technology in our world today.

                  At first I wasn’t sure which side I agreed with the most. Through research I was able to see both the defending and opposing sides of the argument. Evidence showed that many people are opposed to the idea of injecting cattle with the rBGH or rBST for reasons that I found understandable, for example, the increased growth in cancer. The augmentation of milk production might sound like a good idea if I was a dairy farmer, but the health of both dairy cows and humans is a greater concern to me than improving milk production.

                  As the best in the west, Cal Poly’s Dairy Science Complex continues to provide a quality education for students hoping to become the dairy farmers of tomorrow. Its first class equipment and facilities give students the opportunity to raise and care for cattle more efficiently and effectively, while using the university’s motto, “Learn by doing.” Students also come face to face with the controversy of the Bovine Growth Hormone, allowing them to learn more about the real life decisions dairy farmers have to make in order to make their institutions soar.          












[6] Head of Cal Poly’s Dairy Science Department, Professor Les Ferreira

[7] Head of Cal Poly’s Dairy Science Department, Professor Les Ferreira