Is RBST Best

                        My alarm goes off early in the morning and I quickly get out of bed and go down stairs.  I hop on my bike and take off to meet the class at the Boone Dairy Center.  I ride around until I get to the Campus Market and take a right.  I take a left on Highland and ride past the early morning traffic.  Under the overpass I ride until I come to a sign on the right that reads Mt. Bishop Road.  The road turns to dirt and after a short while the new buildings appear.  The Boone Dairy Center, Dr. Marx, Les Ferreira, our tour guide, and most of the class await me at the entrance to the building. 

                        The Boone Dairy Center is the dairy farm on campus.  Cal Poly has 1 of 3 dairy science schools in the U.S.  The cows are taken care of and milked by the students.  In fact the students do everything on the dairy farm. They learn, do research, and manufacture products for sale. Milk, cheese, ice cream, butter and other dairy products are all sold by the dairy science department at Cal Poly.  There are two types of cows on the Cal Poly dairy far: Holstein cows and Jersey cows.  The dairy farm has about 225 cows that are capable of producing milk.  Agriculture is the number one industry in the U.S. right now and dairy is the number one industry in agriculture.  The dairy center is a good source of revenue for Cal Poly and is vital to the school.

I could tell that the dairy center is one of the nicest facilities on campus.  It is far from the rest of the campus so that there is plenty of room for the students and staff to conduct their studies.  The buildings are fairly new.  There are two of them separated by a large parking lot.  They were built in 1995 and 1997 and are painted a pleasant off white color.  The grass and foliage around the facility are trimmed regularly which adds to the buildings well-maintained feeling.  Across the street is an orchard that is now growing almonds.  The next closest facility is the veterinary clinic, which is down the street, on the way back to the main campus.  As we entered the main building I noticed how clean it was.  The class took a right and went upstairs to see where the cows were actually milked.  Our tour guide explained to us the milking process.  This is when I began to realize how complicated the process really is.

The technology in this department is state of the art.  All of the cows have electric collars around their necks that are scanned each time they enter the building.  The collars send information to the computers telling them how much the cows have eaten, when the last time was the cows gave milk, and how much milk the cows gave.  Before the cows are pumped for milk they are cleaned and prepped.  The room that the cows go into to pump milk consists of a circular area and 16 pumps.  They are all maintained well and cleaned daily.  These machines can pump milk from up to 85 cows an hour.  Up to 1000 cows pass through this room every day. 

Outside you can see the lagoon in back of the building.  Because there is an immense amount of cow manure a solution needed to be found.  The manure gets washed away and runs through a sieve.  The water then runs down to the lagoons, which has tents covering them.  The methane gets captured by the tents and powers a generator.  The whole system takes a pollution problem and makes it into useful energy. 

Next we went downstairs to see the cows up close and personal.  As everything was well maintained, so were the stables for the cows.  One problem that was mentioned by our tour guide was that there are thousands of birds that plague the entire dairy farm. Their droppings fall into the cows’ food and cause them to get sick.  To try to solve this problem, recordings of aggressive birds play constantly to frighten the other birds away. Here Les Ferreira told us of the feeding process.  All of the cows’ food is measured very carefully and mixed by huge machines.  The combination of different grains has the perfect amount of nutrients for the cows.  Some of the ingredients are corn, almonds, and soybean meal.  This mix of food is also what attracts the birds.  We walked through the field and visited some of the sick cows.  Like people, they give the sick cows medicine to help them get better. 

Cal Poly thought about making their milk organic a few years ago because it sells for twice as much, but decided against it for a few reasons.  One is that in order to be organic, you must very particular about what you give the cows.  They cannot have any chemicals in their system at all.  This also means that whenever a cow sickens, it must be put to sleep because no medicine can be given to it and it’s unsafe to get milk from a sick cow. 

Instead of becoming organic, the school decided to go the opposite way and start using bovine growth hormones.  Bovine growth hormones are injected into the cows to enhance their milk production.  These growth hormones, also known as rBST, allow the cows to convert food to milk more efficiently.  Les Ferriera told us that nutrients are simply more efficiently utilized.  According to him, rBST has been around for approximately 10 years and nothing negative has been proven against it.  The Monsanto Corporation, a large biotech firm, gives Cal Poly $100,000 a year to use rbst in their cows.  This is money for which Cal Poly gladly accepts the terms.  Most modern and updated dairy farms now use rBST in their cows as well.  According to the Monsanto website, “Bovine somatotropin, or bST, is a natural protein produced in the pituitary glands of all cattle and it helps adult cows produce milk . . .the level of bST in milk remains the same.”  They claim that it helps farmers with fewer cows or less natural resources to make more milk more efficiently.  This provides the farmers with more financial security.   

The use of rBST is controversial simply because many people do not trust it.  They are afraid of the effects that it will have on humans, cows, and small farmers.  They doubt government organizations reports, like the FDA for instance.  Other issues are those concerning animal cruelty, economic impacts, and environmental impacts.  The FDA has gone through numerous tests proving that rBST is totally safe to humans.  There is only one downside to using it.  It causes an increase in mastitis,  more simply known as udder infections.  Many environmentalists think that it is unfair to put animals through this.  The other problem is that the drug often given to cows to cure mastitis is penicillin-based.  This can cause allergic reactions in humans.  The FDA will have to carefully monitor the illegal use of the drug to make sure no harm is done to humans.  I can see why some people are worried about this.  It’s hard to imagine that the FDA can catch every farmer that uses illegal medicine on their cows.  Many supermarkets, like Krogers, refuse to carry milk produced from cows given rBST because of such strong opposition from consumers.  Farmers with smaller herds pretty much need to use rBST to keep up with the competition now.  These are the places where problems may occur.  The worry is that the drugs will not be administered properly and then cause health problems in humans.

                        According to the FDA and other government organizations rBST is completely safe to humans and to everyone who deals with it.   The opposition believes in banning it simply because it is cruel to animals.  It’s a good reason to trust your emotions on some things, but definitely not this.  rBST is a great new way of producing more milk efficiently and should be accepted into society with open arms.

Less Ferreira