7.1—rBST-treated milk is the same as conventional milk

rBST treated milk has the same composition, nutritional value, and safety as conventional milk

See Genetic Roulette’s False Claims at Bottom of Page

Analysis of Peer-Reviewed Research:

The use of rBST to stimulate milk production in cows has probably provoked more bad science, misinformation, and scare tactics than any other use of genetic engineering in the food system—books have been dedicated to the attempts at deception.  The propaganda has been so intense that a large group of eminent scientists banded together and issued a letter that clarifies the science and dispels the myths that Jeff Smith, among many others, spread about rBST-treated milk (blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/2008/03/24/milk-let-the-buyer-the-environment-and-the-cow-beware/).  Milk from rBST treated cows has no more IGF-1 than conventional milk.  It does not contain antibiotics and it has the same nutritional value as conventional milk.  In short, none of Smith’s claims are based on properly interpreted evidence from the scientific literature.  Regulators made certain that rBST milk was as safe and nutritious as any other before they approved its use in dairy cattle.  The use of rBST is good for the environment because less food and land are used, and fewer cattle are needed to produce the same amount of milk. Moreover, the ban on use of antibiotics in organic dairy cattle means that organic farmers often let their animals suffer needlessly from curable diseases before administering badly needed antibiotics because the animal can no longer be used for organic production after administration of antibiotics.  What is most astounding about this is that milk that sold for human consumption cannot contain antibiotics—which means of course that organic farmers can use antibiotics without anybody’s knowledge.

1. rBST treated milk has no more IGF-1 than conventional milk. IGF-1 is a small protein hormone-like substance that has a number of physiological effects that could affect health.  Smith claims that rBST treated milk has as much as 10 percent more IGF-1.  While we are uncertain that a 10 percent increase or decrease in dietary intake of IGF-1 is likely to have any effect on human health, recent studies have shown that rBST-treated milk has no more IGF-1 than conventional milk (Vicini and others 2008).  Interestingly, organic milk did have about 10 percent less IGF-1 than conventional milk.  The reasons for this are not established, however, it is known that organic milk is often ultra-pasteurized which inactivates IGF-1.  It is also interesting that less well-nourished cows produce milks with lower levels of IGF-1.  It is important to note that no adverse effect of the IGF-1 present in all milk samples has been demonstrated, moreover, studies that show adverse effects of orally-administered IGF-1 in animals employ far greater concentrations of IGF-1 than would be encountered in the human diet.  It is generally believed that dietary IGF-1 is digested in the human gut and very little if any is absorbed. Vicini and colleagues observed on this topic “Nonetheless, to put this in perspective, the differences observed in this survey amounts to only 0.003 percent of the IGF-1 produced daily in humans” (Vicini and others 2008).  Human serum contains from 42 to 308 ng/ml of IGF-1 (FDA 1993, see also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IGF-1)—levels that are far in excess of those found in milk (about 3 ng/ml). The scary claim that IGF-1 might cause diseases is not supported by the evidence.  This is clearly explained in the published peer-reviewed literature and regulatory review documents that Genetic Roulette fails to mention.

2.  rBST-treated milk is just as nutritious as conventional milk. Composition studies demonstrate that there is no difference in nutritional value found between milks from rBST-treated and non-treated dairy cattle.  This should not be surprising since regulators required that the composition be tested before rBST was approved for use (FDA 1993).  This information should have been readily available to Smith, but he instead chooses to cite papers that have been superseded by better studies and simply repeated the rants of anti-rBST activists while hiding contradictory data from the reader.

3.  rBST-treated milk does not contain antibiotics. Regulations require that if a dairy cow is treated with antibiotics, it must be withdrawn from production and its milk discarded.  All milk is tested for antibiotics as several points in the milk production and distribution system to ensure that the milk is antibiotic free.   This is done so that consumers are not exposed to low levels of antibiotics that might select for antibiotic resistant organisms in their bodies.  It also serves to ensure that milk from infected cows does not enter the food chain.  It is also important to producers of fermented dairy products that no antibiotics that would arrest or kill the microorganisms that carry out the fermentation be present.  Antibiotics in milk could halt the production of sour cream, buttermilk, cheese, butter, cottage cheese and other fermented dairy products.

4.  Regulators weren’t pressured or bribed to approve rBST. Smith cites his own prior unproven allegations to support his arguments that Monsanto tried to bribe Canadian regulators and that the FDA was forced by industry to approve rBST.  There is no evidence for these claims and if there were, there would have been plenty of prosecutions.  The real pressure on regulators comes not from the industry but from self-appointed activists who are free to make any claim they want without any accountability for truth.  Genetic Roulette is a perfect example of disrespect for evidence and logic.  It should also be noted that Canadian regulators badly misinterpreted the evidence on rBST (FDA 1999).  Nonetheless, we should be forthright and point out that rBST is banned in Canada, parts of the EU, Australia and New Zealand.  We should also point out that large surpluses of milk had driven down world market prices for milk when these decisions were made so that there was no need for or incentive to produce more milk.  These policies have the effect of encouraging inefficient production that has adverse environmental consequences (see 5 below).

5.  rBST allows for more efficient production that is better for the environment.  Since cows treated with rBST produce more milk from the same amount of feed, production is more efficient and fewer cows are needed to provide the needed supplies of milk (Vicini and others 2008, Fetrow and Etherton 2008).  This is not only good for the farmer who produces more milk at lower cost, it is good for the environment.  Less food and less land are consumed, and less waste is produced.  Fewer cows produce less greenhouse gases.  Perhaps surprising to most consumers who have been led to believe that organic agriculture is good for the environment, but organic milk production is less efficient (ARGOS 2008).    More to the point, organic cows may not be as happy when badly needed antibiotics are withheld from them.  Their owners know that if they are administered antibiotics they must be permanently withdrawn from organic milk production.  One wonders also, although admittedly solid evidence is lacking here, if organic producers keep infected animals in production until it is no longer possible to not treat their infections with antibiotics.  It should be noted too that for rBST to give maximum benefits to production, animals must be in excellent overall health and need to be fed good quality rations.  It just could be, therefore, that rBST-treated cows are happier than organic fed cows.


ARGOS (2008). Update on ARGOS Comparative Dairy Research May 2008 Agriculture Redearch Group on Sustainability.(New Zealand). www.argos.org.nz/pdf_files/Dairy%20Fonterra%20report%204.pdf accessed Jan 16 2009. Organic dairying need about 30% more land and makes about 30% more GHG methane for the same milk.

FDA (1993). FDA rBST approval: 58 Federal Register 59946, 59947 (November 12, 1993). Human serum contains from 42 to 308 ng/ml of IGF-1. see also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IGF-1.

FDA  (1999). Report on the Food and Drug Administration’s Review of the Safety of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin.  Feb 5. 1999. www.fda.gov/cvm/RBRPTFNL.htm

Vicini J, Etherton T, Kris-Etherton P, Ballam J, Denham S, Staub R, Goldstein D, Cady R, McGrath M and Lucy M. Survey of retail milk composition as affected by label claims regarding farm-management practices. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:1198-1203.

Etherton T (2008). No differences found in the composition of conventional, rbST-free and organic milk. Dairy and Animal Science Blogs. Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology. blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/2008/07/21/no-difference-in-conventional-rbst-free-and-organic-milk/#more-325 accessed Jan 16 2009

Goldstein DA, Kowalczyk DF, Vicini JL, Buonomo FC, Farmer DR, Fetrow J and Etherton T  (2008) Milk: Let the Buyer (the Environment and the Cow) Beware.  Published online March 24, 2008.  blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/2008/03/24/milk-let-the-buyer-the-environment-and-the-cow-beware/

Genetic Roulette Falsely Claims:

Milk from rbG H-treated cows may increase risk of cancer and other diseases

1. Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone is injected into dairy cows in the United States and elsewhere to increase milk production.

2. Milk from treated cows has much higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone considered to be a high risk factor for breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers.

3. The milk also has lowered nutritional value, the increased antibiotics and more pus from infected udders.

Genetic Roulette argues that the use of rBST (cow growth hormone) to stimulate milk production may cause cows to produce milk that could cause disease.