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With rBGH Gone, How Safe is Milk Supply?

With rBGH Gone, How Safe is Milk Supply?

Picture of Martha Rosenberg


Thanks to resistance from angry consumers, most milk no longer contains the synthetic, genetically modified recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) developed by Monsanto.  The unwanted ingredient was in most commercial milk unlabeled until a backlash against such artificial hormones convinced major grocery store chains and restaurants to banish it. But does that mean commercial milk is safe to drink? Not necessarily.


All dairy cows and “22 to 70 percent of calves” receive antibiotics on dairy farms, admitted Robert D. Byrne, PhD, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs of the National Milk Producers Federation at Capitol Hill hearings about the overuse of livestock antibiotics in 2008.  The drugs are used only to “reduce the level of potentially harmful bacteria which result infections and sickness,” and are FDA-approved Byrne added. There is also a drug “withdrawal time” to make sure milk isn’t contaminated, and milk is “screened” before it is accepted into a processing plant.

 But a report in the New York Times was not as reassuring. It revealed that milk is tested for only six of 20 antibiotics and that 788 dairy cows in one year had drug residues at slaughter.

 The dairy industry has vehemently fought antibiotic restrictions by the government. John J. Wilson, a senior vice president for Dairy Farmers of America, said that the idea of testing for more antibiotics was “very damaging to innocent dairy farmers,” and that there was little reason to think that the slaughterhouse findings of high drug residues “would be replicated in tests of the milk supply.”

And when the FDA proposed testing for more drugs in 2011 the dairy industry got so furious, it used the d-word. Agri-Mark, a Northeast cooperative, sent a letter to its members instructing them to DUMP milk if it had been tested by the FDA, “to ensure that all of our milk sales, cheese, butter and other products are in no danger of recall.”

 Dairies whose animals harbor high levels of antibiotics are disturbingly common. “Our investigation found that you hold animals under conditions which are so inadequate that diseased and/or medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues in edible tissues are likely to enter the food supply,” reads a letter from the FDA to Dennis H. Eldred, the owner of Willet Dairy, in 2005. Four years later Willet Dairy, New York’s largest dairy, was shown on Nightline practicing shocking cruelty against its dairy animals.

The overmedication and extreme treatment of dairy animals was even cited in a government report in 2010. "Farmers are prohibited from selling milk for human consumption from cows that have been medicated with antibiotics (as well as other drugs) until the withdrawal period is over; so instead of just disposing of this tainted milk, producers feed it to their calves," said the report. "When the calves are slaughtered, the drug residue from the feed or milk remains in their meat, which is then sold to consumers."

There are many milk alternatives which taste as good as milk and lack the antibiotic risks. Milk products from soybeans, rice, almonds, hemp, coconut and flax are earning a respected place on grocery store shelves. END



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