General Mills announced today that it has made the commitment to eliminate by August 2009 milk sourced from cows treated with rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), a synthetic hormone also referred to as rBGH, in the production of its category-leading Yoplait® yogurts.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Institutes of Health remain fully confident in the safety of products made from milk sourced from cows treated with rBST in accordance with current guidelines, Yoplait is taking the initiative to change its dairy sourcing strategy to provide consumers with the option to choose a category-leading yogurt with milk produced by cows not treated with rBST.
There are already smaller yogurt manufacturers that are rBGH free, such as Stonyfield, Nancy’s, and Cascade Fresh, but Yoplait is a much bigger and powerful brand to take this step.
What you need to know:
BST (bovine somatotropin) is a hormone cows naturally produce and found in their bodies. The more of this hormone a cow has, the more milk it produces. In the early 1990′s, an artificial growth hormone, rBST (a.ka. rBGH), was developed by agriculture giant Monsanto. While this seems like good news, when you mess with nature, there are always consequences.
The rBST hormone itself has no effect on humans, but the “consequences” do:
1. Cows injected with the hormone tend to be sicker due to inflammations of their much larger udders, and therefore receive more antibiotics. The antibiotics then find their way into your milk and your body.
2. rBST additionally increases the level of an insulin type growth factor in the milk (IGF-1). This, again, finds its way into the human body. Though in most cases our stomach acids digest it, sometimes IGF-1 gets into the bloodstream, and for some people this raises the risk of cancer.
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the EU banned rBGH. The UN’s food safety body, Codex Alimentarius, has also opted not to endorse rBGH.
In the US, many smaller dairies decided not to use rBST. They also thought it would be a good idea to let consumers know about their decision.
In 1993, after heavy pressure from Monsanto, the FDA did 2 things:
1. approve the use of rBGH
2. disallow labeling of milks stating they are from cows free of rBST.
Despite this, organic milk and yogurt manufacturers have been stating more broadly that their products are hormone and antibiotic free, so the FDA cannot chew them out.
So Yoplait’s move, in response to consumer wishes, is a refreshingly good piece of news, even though it is most probably a marketing play rather than true concern for our health. Hopefully more manufacturers and grocers will follow Yoplait’s lead.
What to do at the supermarket:
Buying organic is a sure way to avoid milk products from rBGH-free cows, albeit at a higher price.
On conventional products, you will not find a label mentioning the presence or absence of growth hormones or antibiotics.
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