Call it the milky weigh: Is it worth it to look for dairy products that are free of synthetic, genetically modified, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST)? We say yes, emphatically. From the human health standpoint, IGF-1,a substance produced in our bodies by rBGH, may increase the risk of cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, lung and bone, according to Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. From the animal welfare point of view, rBGH is terribly inhumane, causing swollen, painful udders and frequent infections, which, of course, mean more antibiotic treatment (and residues in dairy products).
That's why, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Breast Cancer Action has launched a "pinkwashing" campaign asking Yoplait, which promotes its contributions to breast cancer research, to stop using milk from rBGH-treated cows in its yogurt. Sure, it produces way more milk, but given the negative impacts, why does any dairy producer continue to use this controversial hormone? One reason: Manufacturer Monsanto's strong-arm tactics make it hard to say no. Having sued conscientious companies such as Ben & Jerry's to try and stop their labeling products as rBGH-free, Monsanto is now pressuring retailers, who say they're only responding to consumer demand for hormone-free choices. At the same time, Monsanto is looking to unload the rBGH arm of its business (and its stock rose after the announcement).
How to know you're buying rBGH-free milk? It's easy.The surefire way: Buy organic. Organic milk, carried by Costco and Wal-mart as well as Whole Foods and other natural markets, is the fastest-growing sector in organic foods, largely because it is growth hormone- and antibiotic-free. At a luncheon honoring him as winner of the Glynwood Medal from the eponymous Center dedicated to sustainable local agriculture, Fred Kirschenmann (also on our first Plenty 20 list of environmental leaders), told us he's bullish on Organic Valley. His reason: OV distributes nationwide but remains a true cooperative of small dairy farms.
If organic seems too pricey, many non-organic brands have also eschewed this udderly awful hormone, which is also now rejected by Starbucks, Kroger Supermarkets, and Dean Foods Co., the nation's largest milk processor and distributor. Click on your state to find a list of rBGH-free dairy brands at Sustainable Table.
And take care of yourself. For a list of ten lifestyle tips to help prevent breast cancer, click here.
Story by Mindy Pennybacker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com.