Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How safe is the milk we drink?

“No artificial growth hormones used!” claims Hannaford brand 1% low fat milk that I drink at least a cup daily. When I look closer though, I see in fine print “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST treated and non-rBST treated cows.” This fine print disclaimer might leave consumers confused with many unanswered questions, the main ones being what is rBST, and does it have any effect on my health?

According to Food & Water Watch in Food, Inc by Karl Weber, rBGH is recombinant bovine growth hormone, which is a “genetically engineered, artificial growth hormone that is injected into dairy cattle to increase their milk production by anywhere from eight to seventeen percent.” The FDA approved of rBGH in 1993 even though its effects were never properly studied. The FDA based their approval solely on an unpublished thereby unverified study conducted by Monsanto Company who had a vested interest toward the bias as the main provider of rBGH, in which the growth hormone was administered to just 30 rats and these rats were tested for only 90 days (sustainabletable.org). Typically, chemicals aren’t approved for human consumption until they have been more extensively tested, often times for as long as ten years. rBGH is outlawed in Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand because of its unknown health effects on humans (Food & Water Watch.org).

Cows injected with rBGH tend to have higher levels of IGF-1 or Insulin-like growth factor 1. IGF-1 naturally occurs within the human body, but when milk from cows injected with rBGH is consumed, the level of IGF-1 increases. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition (preventcancer.com) excess levels of IGF-1 pose serious risks of breast and prostate cancer; “IGF-1 may promote the growth and invasiveness of any cancer by inhibiting programmed self-destruction of cancer cells, and that contamination of milk with residues of antibiotics used to treat mastitis in rBGH cows is likely to spread antibiotic resistant infections in the general population.” Women that have a slight increase in their level of IGF-1 are up to seven times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women with lower levels; therefore, elevated IGF-1 levels are among the leading known risk factors for breast cancer (preventcancer.com).

With these known health risks, why won’t the FDA withdraw its approval of rBGH? The reason can only be speculated, but here are some facts that may allude to an answer: “Michael Taylor, the FDA commissioner responsible for writing the labeling guidelines, had worked as a Monsanto lawyer for seven years before joining the FDA” (sustainabletable.org). Also, deputy director of the FDA’s New Animal Drugs Office had been a Monsanto research scientist researching the safety of rBGH.

Organicconsumers.org is an excellent site to learn more about rBGH in the world today. The site features articles updating the reader on the status of this growth hormone, for example: consumers’ attempts to rid rBGH from schools or Yoplait and Dannon go rBGH free.

Also, Foodandwatch.org compiled Artificial Hormone-free Brands’ Guide for each state which illustrates which milks and other dairy products do not have rBGH and are safe to eat.

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