In the 1930s, it was discovered that increasing levels of bovine somatotrophin (bST), a hormone produced naturally by lactating cows, led to greater milk volumes. Monsanto developed an artificial version – rbST –in 1994, and controversy has dogged the product ever since. Its use is banned in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, although bulk milk products from rbST-treated cows can still be used in food manufacture. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rbST for use in 1993.
Now a review of the scientific data on rbST – first presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of the American Dairy Science Association, Canadian Society of Animal Science, and American Society of Animal Science in July – has said that rbST is “one example of the kinds of efficient food production practices that will help feed the world in the future.”
Decreased land use
It says that US supplementation with rbST increases milk production by about 15 percent, therefore decreasing the amount of land needed to increase milk volumes. The report claims that using rbST hormones in 15 percent of US dairy cows “reduces the carbon footprint of milk production equal to taking approximately 390,000 cars off the road each year or planting approximately 290 million trees annually.”
But one of the greatest areas of conflict in the US has been between Monsanto and dairy producers who do not use the firm’s rbST hormone, regarding the labeling of products to draw attention to their non-rbST origins.
Monsanto says on its website: “We are not against the accurate labeling of milk – even when it is labeled to state that rBST has not been used. Unfortunately in an effort to profit from unfounded fears, many milk processors have labeled their milk to suggest that milk from cows treated with rBST is harmful, or somehow different from milk from untreated cows.”
However, firms flagging up their milk as not containing the hormone say they want to provide consumers with the choice to make informed purchasing decisions.
This latest review backs up Monsanto’s position, saying: “The composition of all milk – organic, rbST-free and conventional – is indistinguishable.”
A full copy of the review can be found online here.