Some Twitter friends were recently discussing this language, found on many dairy product labels:
No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows.
A couple of people misread this as meaning that the milk in question DID contain milk derived from rBST-treated cows. However, it’s really the opposite — the dairy companies are required to use this language if they’re also advertising that the product is rBST-free. So I thought maybe I’d post some information for those who might be confused.
rBST and rBGH are used interchangeably. They refer to growth hormones given to dairy cows in order to increase milk production. The hormones were approved for use with dairy cattle in the U.S. in 1993. Not everyone was happy about this, so some companies quickly began advertising that their products did NOT contain milk from cows treated with hormones.
And Monsanto, the company that developed a recombinant version of growth hormones called Posilac, didn’t like THAT, so they used their influence and lawsuits to get the FDA to insist that dairy companies advertising their non-use of growth hormones had to add the disclaimer that there’s NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between rBST and non-rBST milk. Because otherwise they’d be making false health claims about non-rBST milk being superior.
It’s never been conclusively proven that milk from rBST-treated cows actually harms human health, but studies have shown that the treatment results in health problems in cattle. That’s a problem both if you’re concerned about animal welfare and if you’re concerned about antibiotic use, because increased incidence of mastitis, for instance, leads to increased use of antibiotics in cattle. (REPORT ON ANIMAL WELFARE ASPECTS OF THE USE OF BOVINE SOMATOTROPHIN, European Union Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, 1999)
In any case, public demand has swung toward milk from non-rBST milk, with many retailers (including Safeway, Kroger, Publix and Walmart) pledging to sell only rBST-free milk. And according to the USDA’s 2007 Dairy Survey (page 79), “A total of 15.2 percent of operations used bST on 17.2 percent of cows.” In many, if not most places, it is fairly easy to find rBST-free dairy products.
So, to conclude, if you see that disclaimer above, it’s most likely there because the product you’re looking at IS from cows NOT treated with rBST.