FAQcow

What is BGH?
BGH stands for Bovine Growth Hormone, a substance naturally produced by the pituitary gland of the cows. (Humans and other animals produce their own growth hormones.) It’s the stuff that makes babies grow bigger and to a degree regulates the metabolism of the animal.


Is it the same as BST?
BGH is just the term many lay people use for bovine growth hormone which is scientifically known as Bovine Somatotropin (BST).


What is rBGH and rBST?
When you see the small "r" in front of BGH or BST it stands for "recombinant". That is the term for the growth hormone when it is a laboratory copy of the BGH a cow naturally produced on its own. This is why the term "BGH milk" is technically not correct. All milk contains natural levels of BGH. Milk from injected cows is technically rBGH milk.


Who makes and sells rBGH and rBST?
Although several companies competed to duplicate BGH, all but one ultimately dropped out of the race. The Monsanto company is now the only maker of rBGH for sale to dairymen.


What is Posilac?
Posilac is the Monsanto brand name for the rBGH it sells to dairymen. You can learn more about Monsanto’s claims for its rBGH product (marketed with the name Posilac) at the company’s web site: http://www.monsanto.com/protiva/


Has the government approved of the use of rBGH?
Yes. After reviewing a mountain of evidence and studies provided by Monsanto, the company that developed the artificial hormone, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Posilac in in 1993. After a three-month moratorium prompted by health concerns raised by the GAO, it went on sale in the U.S. Since then, the FDA has repeated its support of the drug, saying, "the public can be confident that milk and meat from treated cows is safe to consume."


Why do farmers use rBGH?
Dairy farming is a very competitive business these days. Extra doses of growth hormone cause cows to produce maybe 25% more milk than they otherwise would at the natural levels of BGH. Making the cow a more prolific milk producer means the dairy can milk more profit out of each cow.


What do rBGH injections do to the animal?
Critics say the hormone speeds up the cow’s natural metabloic level Many farmers report serious health problems are associated with the use of rBGH. Specifically, the injections of extra doses of the hormone have shown to increase cases of mastitis, a serious infection of the cows udders. Hoof problems so serious a cow cannot walk have also been reported as a side effect of the drug. Many farmers report these and other difficulties "burn out" the animals sooner, shortening their lives by maybe two years or more.


Does Monsanto agree its product can cause serious side-effects for the cow?
The company prints the following on the warning label on each package of the hormone:
"Use of Posilac has been associated with increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus during the treatment period. Cows injected with Poslac may have small decreases in gestation length and birthweight of calves and may have increased twinning rates. Also the incidence of retained placenta may be higher following subsequent calving…
"Cows injected with Posliac are at an increased risk of clinical mastitis (visibly abnormal milk). The number of cows effected with clinical mastitis and the number of cases per cow may increase. In addition, the risk of sub-clinical mastitis (milk not visibly abnormal) is increased. In some herds, use of Posilac has been associated with increases in somatic cell counts…Use of Posilac is associated with increased frequency of use of medication in cows for mastitis and other health problems.
"Cows injected with Posilac may experience periods of increased body temperature unrelated to illness…Use of Posilac may result in an increase in digestive disorders such as indigestion and diarrhea…Studies indicated that cows injected with Posilac had increased numbers of enlarged hocks and lesions (i.e. lacerations)…and second lactation calves had more disorders of the foot region however results of these studies did not indicate that use of Posilac increased lameness."


Should humans worry about adverse health effects to the cow?
Beyond concerns of inhumane treatment and animal suffering protested by animal rights groups, concern has been expressed about how the quality of the milk may be adversely effected by use of the hormone. Specifically, doctors fear that when farmers use a wide range of antibiotics to treat infections and other disorders in the cow caused by injections of the artificial hormone, levels of those drugs may find their way into the public milk supply. When drunk by children and others, doctors fear human bodies may build an immunity to those antibiotics, rendering them useless in the event they are needed to treat human illnesses later.


Don’t dairies and government watchdog agencies test all milk for safety?
Since 1993, there has been a National Drug Residue Milk Monitoring Program to test raw milk for the presence of antibiotics—but only for antibiotics in the penicillin (betalactum) family. Only about four times a year do federal officials spot check samples of pre-processed raw milk from any given state, looking for residues of an antibiotic outside the penicillin family of drugs. Farmers can and do use a wide variety of other antibiotics approved and unapproved to treat animal illnesses including those caused by the rBGH injections. Routine tests by state officials can also detect high levels of bacteria caused by pus in the milk as a result of serious udder infections such as those linked to rBGH use. From time to time, officials say, entire truckloads of milk are dumped for a variety of problems.


How many farmers inject their cows with rBGH?
In Florida, a spot check by reporters investigating the drug found it being injected into cows at seven out of seven dairies visited at random.
Monsanto does not release sales figures but makes these representations at its web site www.monsanto/protiva/press4.html dated January, 1998:
"Of the nearly 9 million dairy cows in the United States, approximately 25 percent of the cows are in herds that are supplemented with POSILAC."
"Since its introduction in 1994, POSILAC has become the largest selling dairy animal health product in the United States. Sales of POSILAC continue on a strong growth curve with nearly a 30 percent increase in sales volume in 1997 compared to 1996. For 1996, sales volumes were up 45 percent from 1995 levels."
"As POSILAC enters its fifth year of commercial sales, Monsanto confirms the steady growth of the product in terms of sales, total number of cows receiving the product and percentage of cows within herds receiving the product. Reflecting the continual growth and acceptance of this product is the fact that approximately 300 dairy producers per month have been joining the POSILAC program over the last three years."
"In 1997, POSILAC achieved a significant milestone with more than 60 million doses delivered."


Which milk at the market comes from cows injected with artificial hormones?
Probably all of it. Milk is co-mingled in those big stainless steel tanker trucks that go from farm to farm to collect it. Then, the milk from several tankers is mixed at the milk processing plant. If any single dairy injects its cows with the artificial hormone, that milk ends up being mixed with milk from cows not injected with rBGH. The actual percentage of milk from rBGH-treated cows depends on how many dairies in your area use it. In Florida, where seven out of seven dairies were found to be injecting the drug, the percentage is high.


Didn’t some supermarkets promise not to buy milk from BGH-treated cows?
Yes. In response to protests by consumers in Florida and others concerned about possible human health effects, Publix and Albertsons and the Fleming Companies, a giant supermarket wholesaler of milk and dairy products, promised in February 1994 not to buy milk from treated cows "until there was widespread acceptance" of the hormone. Those markets now admit because some independent dairymen have decided to legally use the drug, and because milk is co-mingled, they can no longer keep their earlier promises and, to one degree or another, all the milk on their shelves now comes from BGH-treated cows.


Why don’t Monsanto, the dairy industry, and the supermarket chains promote rBGH milk?
Because Monsanto’s own studies have shown there is still strong consumer resistance to the idea of drinking milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. A University of Wisconsin study released in January 1996 showed 94% of consumers believed there should be labels to distinguished milk from treated and untreated cows. 74% of consumers said they were moderately to very concerned about unknown harmful human health effects of BGH which might not show up until later.
The UW Study followed Monsanto’s own research in January 1994. In that survey of female heads of households, 64% believed milk from treated cows was not as safe as milk from untreated animals.
These concerns continue to be fueled by news other countries will not approve rBGH use because of human health concerns.

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