Truth in Labeling: What’s in Your Milk?

Eli Lilly wants you to get less information from your food label—and Ohio is defending that view in court!

Some dairy farmers choose to use an artificial growth hormone (recombinant bovine growth hormone or rbGH), produced and sold by Eli Lilly, to make cows produce more milk.

Unfortunately, rBGH has numerous harmful side effects for cows, and has been linked to a wide range of health problems for consumers.

But many retailers, as well as all organic dairies, sell milk products from cows that are not injected with synthetic growth hormones. They tell you that on the label, so you can choose the “no artificial growth hormones” or “rbGH-free” if you prefer it.


Last year, Ohio issued a rule that will make this distinction more difficult for Ohio shoppers to find, and the state is defending the rule in an expensive court proceeding..

Subject: Fax Gov. Strickland: Stop Muzzling Ohio’s Organic Dairy Farmers

Dear Friend,

Ever since last year, Ohio dairy producers have been threatened by an onerous “emergency” regulation that muzzles their ability to communicate with their customers.

Specifically, the milk labeling rule, issued in May 2008, prohibits dairies from labeling their milk as “rbGH-free” and adds other unnecessary bureaucratic requirements that are getting in the way of dairy companies that want to tell you that their milk is produced without synthetic growth hormones.

Fortunately, Governor Strickland has the power to rescind this order unilaterally — and end the costly litigation brought by organic farmers challenging this unconstitutional infringement on their free speech rights.

I just sent Governor Strickland a fax asking him to act within his authority and immediately rescind his executive order. Please have a look and take action.

Frequently Asked Questions About rBGH from Food Democracy Now!

What is rBST or rBGH?

Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a protein hormone naturally produced in the pituitary glands of cattle. Monsanto developed a recombinant version, rBST, by using a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria. Sold under the brand name “Posilac,” it is injected into cows to boost milk output in the short term. This practice is coming under increasing scrutiny. rBST is also known as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone).

How does rBST affect the animals that receive this drug?

Posilac packaging lists many possible side effects of the drug, including reduced pregnancy rates, visibly abnormal milk, hoof disorders and a need for more drug treatments for health problems. Cows treated with rBST face a nearly 25% increase in the risk of clinical mastitis, a 40% reduction in fertility, and 55% increase risk of lameness. (The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, 2003)

Why is increased chance of infections like mastitis a problem?

In addition to the needless suffering of the animal, increased incidence of infections could lead to increased use of antibiotics and an increased risk of antimicrobial residues in milk and to antibiotic resistant bacteria. (“Report on Public Health Aspects of the Use of Bovine Somatotropin,” issued March 15-16, 1999, p.16, and available from The European Commission—Food Safety.)

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that “Decreasing unnecessary or inappropriate antibiotic use, in humans and animals, will decrease the resistance pressure on the treated organisms. Ongoing efforts. . .are needed. . .so that the efficacy of antibiotics is preserved as long as possible.”

Is rBST allowed for use in other countries?

The product is already prohibited in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in the 27 countries of the European Union.

How does rBST affect milk production?

rBST is known to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in cows, which can lead to increased IGF-1 in milk. (“Report on Public Health Aspects of the Use of Bovine Somatotropin,” issued March 15-16, 1999, and available from The European Commission—Food Safety.)

What are the concerns about IGF-1 in milk?

Many studies have noted some links associated between IGF-1 levels and increased risk of cancer, especially breast and prostate cancer. (Holmes, Pollak, et. al. “Dietary Correlates of Plasma Insulin-like Growth Factor I and Insulin-like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3 Concentrations” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, Sept. 2002, p. 852-861; Chan, Stampfer, et. al.“Plasma Insulin-like Growth Factor-I and Prostate Cancer Risk: A Prospective Study,” Science, January, 1998, p 563-566; Yu, Jin, et. al, Insulin-like Growth Factors and Breast Cancer Risk in Chinese Women, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, August 2002, p. 705-712.)

What other potential problems have come up?

Studies of animals exposed to rBST raise concerns about potential changes in milk protein that could lead to allergies. (“Report on Public Health Aspects of the Use of Bovine Somatotropin,” issued March 15-16, 1999, p. 17, and available from The European Commission—Food Safety.)

What do milk and milk product labels need to say about not using rBST?

Labels must be truthful and not misleading. To avoid misleading consumers, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance from February 1994 suggests a label statement such as: “from cows not treated with rbST” or other truthful description.

As recently as August 2007, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and FDA rejected a request for new restrictions on rBST marketing claims at the federal level. The FTC stated “food companies may inform consumers in advertising, as in labeling, that they do not use rBST.”

How does this issue compare with other types of truthful labeling statements?

Even if there is not currently any laboratory test that can distinguish between milk produced with rBST, and milk produced without rBST, other food labels regularly include truthful statements that are not verified by laboratories. Examples include: state or country of origin, type of water, such as spring or well, specific names of wines, such as Riesling, that must have at least 90% Riesling grapes, and statements about the age of products such as cheese or whiskey. It’s not right to single out dairy as requiring a lab test for truthful statements about production practices.

You can find more information at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility – Campaign for Safe Food.

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