Got rBGH? If you’ve had a glass of milk today, chances are the answer is yes.
Recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin, allows for greater milk production when injected into dairy cows. Though banned in Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan, the hormone is widely used in America.
Credit it to the “natural foods” craze, or chalk it up to consumers just not wanting extra additives in their bodies, but many dairies are now going rBGH-free. In February, Iowa’s own Anderson Erickson started selling milk with the label “rBST-free.” Missouri-based Heartland Creamery also sells similarly labeled products in Iowa. With ever-increasing worries about product safety, giving customers more information about what they purchase would seem to be a good idea. And, to most, it is. But not the makers of rBST, Monsanto, which sells it under the trade name Posilac.
Monsanto and other critics of the “rBST-free” label point out that the FDA considers the hormone completely safe and that the injected hormones are biologically identical to those normally produced in cows.
They also believe that the use of the label “rBST-free” makes customers believe that the hormone is dangerous or unhealthy. To quash this argument, Anderson Erickson places this on its product as well: “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows.” Because of an FDA ruling, the disclaimer is required on any product sold on American shelves labeled “rBST-free,” preventing the insinuation that there’s anything wrong with a product such as Posilac.
But this still doesn’t satisfy Monsanto. It has used its considerable lobbying muscle to set up “grass-roots” groups and influence state legislatures and governors in seven states to consider restrictions on labeling any product “rBST-free.” These groups would lead you to believe they aren’t worried about Monsanto’s profits as much as consumer happiness. Their argument is that permitting the “rBST-free” label to be used would allow consumers to think that milk without such labeling is dangerous, the same way a bag of chips without the words “salt free” would send shoppers screaming out of supermarket doors.
Monsanto has a justifiable interest in protecting its product’s “good name.” If a small farmer has an equally small stock to milk from and needs rBST to keep milk production at profitable levels, then that’s the farmer’s prerogative. However, a milk customer has equal justification in wanting to know precisely what he or she is buying. At issue is something more important than Monsanto’s image and farmer’s rights, and that is members of the American public being entitled to know exactly what they are purchasing, especially if it goes into their bodies. Corporations have no right to keep product information from consumers, and neither does the government. If something is in our milk, whether someone else says it’s safe or not, we have a right to know if it’s there.