Dairy aisles are littered with labels proudly stating that “our farmers pledge they do not inject their cows with artificial growth hormone.” As more shoppers move to make healthier, smarter choices for their families, more attention is also being paid to the use of bovine growth hormones.
Are these bovine growth hormones, also known as rBST or rBGH, healthy for people and cows?
North Country Public Radio in New York State took a closer look.
"There's no way you could tell looking at the milk, and there's no way you could tell by testing the milk. There are no differences,” Dale Bauman, who has been researching bovine growth hormone for decades at Cornell University, said.
Bauman points that after extensive research, medical groups have not found human health issues connected to the use of rBST in milk production.
Many dairy farmers like Sandy Stauffer, a producer running a 1,500-head operation in St. Lawrence County, N.Y., stand behind using rBST.
“I believed in product, I believe in technology,” Stauffer said. The company marketing rBST had research showing a 10-pound per cow increase in milk production, "and that is in fact what we found," he adds. "As we started using it, the cows immediately went up, and if (we) took a cow off it, she immediately dropped back. It was like night and day. There was no question about it being effective."
Petra Meier, a New York veterinarian, also counters concerns about the cows. She has inspected Stauffer’s herd since 2008 and has not seen an increase in mastitis or other disease.
"So, I don't think there's any difference in cow health from a herd that's using BST or not,” Meier said.
However, Stauffer and other producers who use rBST are fighting an uphill battle. New York State recently became the nation’s top yogurt producer, and its booming yogurt companies are reaching for rBST-free milk for their products. For consumers, the label battle will just continue to send mixed messages.