Recently, I bought a lunch-box sized container of Horizon organic milk. I don’t use milk regularly, but do use other dairy products like cheese, sour cream, and butter often. I was a bit disturbed when I noticed something on the label that I had not seen on other dairy products: “Our farms produced this milk without the use of antibiotics, added hormones, pesticides or cloning.” I’d heard of the dangers of growth hormones in milk, but decided to do some research into what’s really in our milk, if they use cloned cows or if that’s just another advertising scam and if current regulations really protect the consumer.
Pesticides, Antibiotics and Hormones in Milk
If you are a woman and you have ever been prescribed an antibiotic or medication of any type, your doctor or pharmacist most likely asked you if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Why? Because the medications come through the mother’s milk. Why would this be any different in animals? It’s not.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, commercial dairy farmers feed cattle corn silage, alfalfa or grass silage, alfalfa hay, ground or high-moisture shelled corn, soybean meal, fuzzy whole cottonseed, and perhaps commodity feeds (corn gluten, distillers grains, soybean hulls, citrus pulp, etc.), instead of grazing on grass in a sunny field. It might be cheaper up front, but the feed is likely genetically modified (GM) to withstand dangerous pesticides that the animals then digest and process into milk. The feed is a very unnatural food for the cows, wreaking havoc on their poor digestive systems. This makes them susceptible to various pathogens, such as E. coli, mastitis and other diseases contracted through their diet and poor living conditions. Farmers give cattle antibiotics throughout their life, when all they need to do is let them graze on grass to balance the pH level of their stomach and give them better living conditions in general. These antibiotics are found in milk we consume.
In order to increase the production of milk the cows are injected with the bovine growth hormone rGBH. While labels state, “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rGBH-treated and non-rGBH-treated cows,” the truth is out there. Investigative journalists, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, tell their story on PR Watch about how Monsanto, former manufacturer of rGBH, lawyered-up and hid their revealing report on the dangers of rBGH in milk. According to the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research (2003), there are at least 16 different harmful medical conditions for dairy cattle treated with rGBH, including:
40 percent increase in infertility
55 percent increased risk for lameness
Visibly abnormal milk
It also increases the levels of Insulin Growth Factor -1 (IGF-1) in the cows as well as their milk. In this important report on the link between breast cancer and milk from cows treated with rGBH, Dr. Mercola explains that “IGF-1 is a potent hormone that acts on your pituitary gland to induce powerful metabolic and endocrine effects, including cell growth and replication. Elevated IGF-1 levels are associated with breast and other cancers. When cows are injected with rBGH, their levels of IGF-1 increase up to 20-fold, and this IGF-1 is excreted in the milk.”
In addition to the added hormones, we have to deal with the natural hormones in milk. Cows are now milked 300 days of the year, including entire pregnancies. According to Ganmaa Davaasambuu, who holds a Ph.D. in environmental health and is a current fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, “Milk from a cow in the late stage of pregnancy contains up to 33 times as much of a signature estrogen compound (estrone sulfate) than milk from a non-pregnant cow.” What does this mean to the consumer? Studies are not revealing that the increase in sex hormones are linked to cancers including prostate, breast and endometrial. According to Dr. Davaasambuu’s research, “One study compared diet and cancer rates in 42 countries. It showed that milk and cheese consumption are strongly correlated to the incidence of testicular cancer among men ages 20 to 39. Rates were highest in places like Switzerland and Denmark, where cheese is a national food, and lowest in Algeria and other countries where dairy is not so widely consumed. Butter, meat, eggs, milk, and cheese are implicated in higher rates of hormone-dependent cancers in general. Breast cancer has been linked particularly to consumption of milk and cheese.”
Companies use different claims to appear more desirable to the health-conscious consumer. I have seen products labeled as non-GMO when the ingredients have not been genetically modified in general, yet. So, are cows really cloned, or is this a marketing ploy as well? The truth is stranger than fiction, I’m afraid. In 2008, the FDA approved the use of cloned animals for both meat and milk. Similar to genetically modified food, there are no regulations that cloned animal products have to be labeled and are thought to be safe. Personally, I’d rather not be the guinea pig to find out the safety of these products.
Does the USDA and FDA protect the consumer? Well, I’m not so sure I’d consider rGBH or cloned animals safe. The FDA seems to be going out of their way to limit the sales of raw milk lately. However, consumers have been fighting for their right to buy and consume raw, organic milk so much that states have been forced to change their laws and allow the sale of it (Click here to see if raw milk is legal in your state). Meanwhile, the FDA continues to send SWAT teams out to arrest Amish farmers and the USDA allows the largest “organic” dairy companies to sell questionably organic products. The Cornucopia Institute is filing a formal legal complaint in an attempt to immediately halt the USDA from allowing factory farms producing “organic” milk from bringing conventional dairy cattle onto their farms. Cornucopia claims the practice, which places family-scale farmers at a competitive disadvantage, is explicitly prohibited in the federal regulations governing the organic industry.