Got Milk? Know What’s in It? (Part 2)

milk_chemicals1Today I continue my look at the ways GMOs find their way into dairy products by focusing on what is put into dairy animals themselves that makes its way into the milk they produce.

According to a study done in Spain and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, May 11, 2011 a typical glass of milk contains up to 20 chemicals and drugs. The list contains antibacterials, anti-inflammatories, lipid regulators, B-blockers, hormones, and more.

Of these antibiotics and growth hormones seem to be getting the most attention. One fifth of the dairy cows in the United States have been given genetically modified growth hormones to help them grow faster and boost milk production. These hormones can be found in some of the milk produced by these cows and have been shown to act inside the human body.

It’s called rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) sometimes listed as rBST. Despite opposition from scientists, farmers and consumers, the US still allows dairy cows to be injected with rBGH. This genetically engineered hormone, originally manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10% to 15%. Controversy over the safety of this practice still continues.

In 1991 a report by Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group, revealed that rBGH-injected cows in a Monsanto-financed study at the University of Vermont suffered serious health problems. Among them were a disturbing rise in the number of deformed calves and a significant increase in mastitis. Mastitis is a painful bacterial infection of the udder, which leads to pus and blood secretions into milk.

Health Canada supported these findings seven years later concluding rBGH increases the risk of mastitis by 25 percent. Their study also found rBGH affects reproductive functions, increases the risk of clinical lameness by 50 percent, and shortens the lives of cows.

To treat mastitis, the dairy industry relies on antibiotics. This increase in antibiotic use contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Monsanto Tries to Take the Bull by the Horns

dairy-cowDespite the fact that Monsanto and the dairy industry aggressively promoted rBGH, farmers, the public rejected the artificial hormone.

With growing consumer concerns, some dairies began labeling their milk as “rBGH-free” or “No artificial growth hormones.” This was countered by an attempt to make these labeling practices illegal, by a “grassroots” nonprofit called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT.) AFACT was created at a PR firm founded by two ex-Monsanto employees, received funding from Monsanto, and was dissolved in 2011.

Unsuccessful attempts to ban “rBGH-free” labeling were tried in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, Utah and Vermont.

Proving again active and vocal consumers make a difference, in 2007, U.S. grocery chains Kroger and Safeway prohibited the use of rBGH-treated milk in their store-branded dairy products. In 2008, WalMart banned rBGH use in their store-brand milk products. Starbucks company stores and Chipotle Restaurants are 100% rBGH free. In August 2008, Monsanto sold the division of the corporation that produces rBGH to Eli Lilly.

Fora list of top 100 free dairy processors and their use of rBGH go here. As of 9/15/10, 67 of the top 100 dairies in the U.S. are now completely or partially rBGH-free.

For further information on rGBH check out this information from theOrganic Consumers Association

or the rBGH fact sheet from the Institute for Responsible Technology.

Fodder Crops

calf-eating-hayBovine growth hormone is not the only way GMOs are getting into our nations dairy cows. Fodder crops are largely genetically modified. Dairy cows are the primary consumers of alfalfa. Roundup ready alfalfa was approved in late 2011. The other primary fodder crops are corn, soybeans, and wheat. 88% of the corn grown in the U.S. is GE with 79.5% going into animal food. The largest percentage goes to soybeans with 94% GE crops and of them 98% is used in animal feed. Wheat has not yet been approved for genetic modification.

Some consumers have switched to grass fed dairy, which is a good option right now. However, Pastoral Genomics, Inc. and AgResearch Ltd. In New Zealand have been working for years on GE rye grass and clover, “forage crops.” The good news is that in the meantime natural methods have developed varieties that produce the same results so there is still hope that will not be legalized.

So what can you do?

Aside from forgoing dairy altogether there are two options to help you avoid the drugs and chemicals in your dairy. One solution is as controversial, if not more so, the situation it resolves; and that is raw dairy.


Raw dairy should not come from anti-biotic, hormone-injected cows and it is not pasteurized (heated to kill bacteria) which according raw milk supporters destroys beneficial bacteria, transforms proteins, and ruins many of the other vitamins and nutrients found in milk.

There is anecdotal evidence which credits raw milk as a cure for a variety of ailments from intestinal problems to skin rashes. The results of two university studies found raw milk lessened the onset of asthma and allergies in children ages five to 13 (University of Basel in Switzerland 2007) and does not produce symptoms in those who are lactose intolerant (University of Michigan 2008.)

On the other hand the CDC states that raw milk is the riskiest of all for food borne illnesses because bacteria are not killed in pasteurization. They strongly advise against it because the presence of germs is unpredictable.

In addition to the dairy requirements of the U.S. FDA each state has its own laws governing the sale of certified raw milk. Raw milk is only available commercially in a few states in the US. To see where your state stands check out this map.

For more information on raw milk go to

 Personally I Look for Organic

Organic dairy products are all rBGH-free and do not use GM grains as feed. The below points are from the USDA Organic Production and Handling Standards.

  • Producers must feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100 percent organic, but they may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Dairy animals must be managed organically for at least 12 months in order for milk or dairy products to be sold, labeled or represented as organic.
  • Preventive management practices must be used to keep animals healthy. Producers may not withhold treatment from sick or injured animals. However, animals treated with a prohibited substance may not be sold as organic.
  • Ruminants must be out on pasture for the entire grazing season, but for not less than 120 days. These animals must also receive at least 30 percent of their feed, or dry matter intake (DMI), from pasture.

Once again organic is the simple answer.

Now that I’ve covered what’s out there and why I support organic dairy producers, it’s time to lighten up and have some fun. Tomorrow I’ll begin posting some of my favorite uses of dairy including how to assemble a cheese board for parties, good pairings with fruit and cheese, summer fondue, and one of my favorite salad recipes.


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