March 2, 2005
When I think of milk the first thing that comes to mind are the “got milk” commercials. I can imagine seeing a little boy stuff a huge brownie in his mouth, only to later find out that the milk carton is empty. These commercials just show how vital milk is to society, but who would have known that with milk comes a huge mess of controversy over a hormone called rBST.
This hormone is used right here on campus in The Eugene and Rachel Boone Dairy Science Complex. The dairy complex is located at the end of Mount Bishop Road past the Crops Unit and the Veterinary Unit. The unit fits snugly at the base of Bishop’s peak and is home to 80 Holstein and 85 Jersey cows. The place where the cows are milked is the biggest building in the dairy unit. This milking barn is located behind the dairy unit Hospital and Maternity Barn. Within the milking barn is a double-8 rapid-exit herringbone that holds and milks 16 cows at a time. After the cows are milked the milk passes through an energy-efficient pre-cooling system that then transfers the milk into 3,000-gallon bulk tanks. The milk is then used to make other dairy products.
The Dairy Science Complex is surrounded by vibrant landscape that is rural and hilly. The dairy unit lies over high-quality agricultural land that is now covered with pavement. Building the Complex may have destroyed this rich land but, Cal Poly is one of the only schools on the west coast to have a specific Dairy Science major. Having this specialized major means the land is being put to positive, unique, and beneficial uses.
Many activities are conducted at the Eugene and Rachel Boone Dairy Science Complex. Tours are given three times every Friday and usually last about an hour. At these tours you can view the milking process from the second floor of the Milking Barn and gain insight into the world of dairy, which is an intriguing process.
Along with the many tours given at the Diary Unit there also are an array of student activities taking place. 125 undergraduate students are studying husbandry and 18 graduate students are pursuing graduate study in dairy products technology at Cal Poly. At the Dairy Unit students learn activities such as how to manage a processing plant and the science and technology of manufacturing milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, and cottage cheese.
A hormone called rBST is used on the cows at the Eugene and Rachel Boone Dairy Science Complex. This hormone comes with much controversy and since Cal Poly has been using rBST since 1994 the institution must handle this debate. rBST is a man made growth hormone that is used on two-thirds of the cows in the U.S. to increase milk production. It was engineered by extracting BST out of pregnant cows. Bovine Somatropin (BST) is produced in the pituitary glad and it is what causes cows to produce milk while they are pregnant. When cows are injected with rBST it allows them to continuously produce milk. This increase in milk production is worth about $44 to $83 dollars per lactation cycle per cow. With this hormone dairy producers can earn more money and consumers can pay less for milk (Posilan Bovine Somatotropin).
rBST is valuable and it has revolutionized the dairy industry, yet many people feel that rBST is bad when consumed by humans, while others believe it is not. Les Ferreira, Head of the Dairy Science Department at Cal Poly states, “Cows receiving rBST have identical levels of BST in their milk when compared to cows not receiving rBST.” The Clinton Administration conducted a study on rBST and found that there was no negative effect. The FDA agrees that rBST is not harmful [SM1]saying;[SM2] there is virtually no difference between milk from cows injected with rBST and cows not injected. In 1999 U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna E. Shalala stated that the recent FDA audit concluded “ that rBST is safe for human consumption.” The FDA also will not require anyone to keep track of who is and is not using rBST because rBST poses no threat, therefore there is no need to track it. The FDA has strict food safety standards that rBST has met in studies conducted and that is why the FDA sees it unnecessary to track those using rBST.
There is also the question about whether this is good or bad for cows? rBST happens to be a protein base hormone which would seem to be harmless. Yet, it has been found that cows hyper-stimulate with this hormone and become seriously stressed. In 1990 the House Committee on Government Operations charged “…that the FDA ha[s] chosen to suppress and manipulate animal health test data-in efforts to approve commercial use” (Hormone Still Threatens Public Health). It is believed that the FDA has put special interests ahead of its legal obligation to protect the health and safety of these cows. Now it has been discovered that cows injected with rBST have an increased risk of mastitis or udder infections that produce puss-laden milk. Cows have to be treated with antibiotics but if this condition goes unnoticed it can be deadly for the cow and harmful for humans. Environmentalists think it is cruel to increase the risk of mastitis and for that reason alone rBST should be banned.
To add more controversy to this topic there is the side issue of advertisement. Should producers be able to advertise that there [SM3]dairy product is rBST free or not? For small dairy producers the ability to say that their milk does not contain rBST is beneficial because this advertisement could increase their sales. Many consumers prefer things that are not engineered and would rather have milk that does not contain rBST. The possibility to advertise rBST free dairy products would give small producers an edge on those producers who use rBST. This side issue of advertisement has added much hullabaloo over the past few years because countless people disagree with the FDA’s decision to disallow advertisement. This advertisement would create credibility for those producers not using rBST because it would set them apart by gaining them consumers who would prefer rBST free milk. On the other hand, big dairy producers disagree because they do not feel there is any difference between the two milks. In 1996 the Circuit Court of Appeals sided with those not wanting to advertise rBST. The court struck down a Vermont rBST labeling law allowing producers to label their dairy products rBST free due to the lack of evidence that rBST causes health problems.
Looking at the negative side of the argument we must contemplate whether or not rBST has some ill effects. This hormone is not natural, we have engineered it and there is always possible risk with unnatural things. Cancer is thought to be a side effect of rBST. The European Union has banned the growth hormone because studies have shown that it is a “complete carcinogen (cancerous).” Yet, the U.S. does not see rBST as a threat and does not believe it is cancerous from the studies the FDA has held. Milk containing rBST is also thought to have higher fat levels and longer chains of saturated fatty acids, but the FDA also disagrees with this fact saying the two milks have no differences.
After seeing both sides of the argument I believe rBST should not be banned but it should be labeled. If you look at the argument from a credible side, both the Clinton Administration and the FDA say it is not harmful. Yet, the arguments against rBST cannot be ignored. rBST contains too many “what ifs,” not to mention it is harmful to cows. I think rBST is a very inventive hormone but the possible damaging effects it could have such as cancer and mastitis cannot be overlooked. This issue is too controversial and too open to not allow people to make their own decisions[SM4].
Next time you see one of those “got milk” commercials on TV you are sure going to think twice about milk. Milk is very controversial and I believe the only way to resolve the problem is to allow consumers to decide for themselves. The FDA should inform consumers about rBSt and all its possible shortcomings. It should also permit labeling which would allow consumers to make their own decisions about whether rBST is harmful or not. When you grab that milk carton next time you are going to have a lot more to think about than whether the carton is empty of full[SM5].
1) Dairy Science Department.
<www.dairy.calpoly.edu > February 28, 2005
2) Bovine Growth Hormone.
<www.organicconsumers.org/rbghlink.html > February 28, 2005
3) Posilan Bovine Somatotropin.
<www.monsantodairy.com > February 28, 2005
4) rBST Regulation Public Policy.
<www.gmabrands.com/publicpolicy/ docs/WhitePaper >February 28, 2005
5) Bovine Growth Hormone Still Threatens Public Health.
6) Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST) and Dairy Trade.