Most of us know that when we go to the store to buy milk, that we have many choices, including amounts of fat and flavors. Those choices also may begin with decisions to buy milk from cows treated or not treated with bovine somatotropin and organic milk.
According to Mike Hutjens, a dairy extension specialist at the University of Illinois, there is no difference in the content, quality or wholesomeness in the three kinds of milk. He said all milk, including milk from cows treated or not treated with the hormone rbST and organic sourced milk, contains natural hormones. Milk from cows treated with rbST does not have more hormones than other milk
Just what is rbST? It is an artificial hormone that exactly copies a cow's natural hormones. It improves efficiency and allows the cow to produce more milk. This in turn keeps costs down to consumers. Some dairy farmers decided to use it while others did not, depending on their situation and how they viewed this technology.
A recent food survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that a half-gallon of regular milk in dairy cases cost an average of $2.40 across the U.S. A half-gallon of milk from cows certified they are not treated with rbST was $3.30, an additional 90 cents. The survey found that organic milk averaged $3.63 a half-gallon or $1.23 more.
Given that all milk is the same, those figures would indicate which kind is the best buy when we are counting our nickels and dimes.
Let's look a little further into the rbST issue. Some months ago many milk processors required that farmers had to stop using rbST even though it did not change the content of the milk. They found that by playing on consumer fears they could charge more for the rbST milk from farms that had signed an affidavit that they were not using the hormone.
According to the Farm Bureau survey, this allowed them to charge as much as $.90 cents a half-gallon more for their milk.
Dairy farmers are paid a small premium for not using the hormone in their herds. That premium they get is considerably less than consumers pay in the grocery store for this milk from herds that certified they were not using it. Someone gets the difference.
Then dairy farmers that were using rbST, and some did not, lost between five and 10 percent in milk production.
There is another interesting aspect to this issue. Cornell University researchers did a study to predict the environmental impact of using rbST. They found that the total reduction in carbon footprint by using rbST on one million dairy cows is equivalent to removing about 400,000 family cars from the road or planting 300 million trees. This was possible because of the increased production efficiency in cows by using the hormone.
The researchers also said that more energy reductions would result from less energy needed to produce feed and milk fewer cows. They also pointed out that eight percent fewer cows would be needed in rbST supplemented herds while 25 percent more cows would be needed in organic production systems to meet future milk requirements.
So considering everything, it is a sad commentary that we have turned our backs on rbST, a proven safe technology that can help feed all of us and the rest of the world. And it is because one group saw a way to make more money at the expense of farmers and consumers.
Parker grew up in Trumbull County and works with the local Farm Bureau Board.