Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FAQ: "Are there hormones in my milk?"

This is the second blog post in a three-part series attempting to answer a few frequently asked questions about milk. Yesterday I explained where people could buy our farm’s milk, and tomorrow I’ll touch on the differences between “conventional” and “organic” milk. As for today, I hope I can provide a good answer for all of you that have ever asked or wondered, “Are there hormones in my milk?”

Cows, like all living creatures that I’m aware of, naturally produce hormones in their bodies. Some of these hormones are found at very low (and very safe) levels in cows’ milk. Therefore, any dairy product you buy… whole milk, skim milk, “organic” milk, cheese, yogurt, etc…will contain traces of these naturally-occurring hormones. Perhaps where the issue has gotten confusing is in the use of supplemental rBST and the labeling of rBST-free milk.

Bovine Somatotropin is a protein hormone naturally produced in the pituitary gland of all dairy cattle. Supplemental levels of the hormone’s recombinant form (rBST) can be given to cows during certain times of their lactation to increase milk production. Essentially, the supplement helps a cow convert feed into milk more efficiently. The advantage to using rBST is that it can help a dairy produce more milk without adding more cows to the herd or growing/buying additional feed. The level of success of the supplement often depends on other factors such as feed quality and environment. We used rBST for a short time in our milking herd but did not see enough of a milk increase to warrant its continued use.  Due to that economic decision, our herd has been “rBST-free” now for well over 10 years.

example of rBST-free labeling
Numerous scientific studies have concluded that there is no difference in safety or nutrition between the milk and meat from cows that receive supplemental rBST and those that don’t. Despite this fact, many consumers have voiced their preference for milk from cows that have not received rBST supplements. As a result, several dairy processing companies have worked with cooperatives and individual dairies to secure an “rBST-free” milk supply. Many of these companies then include information on their milk jug labels or dairy food packaging identifying the product as rBST-free or containing "no artificial growth hormones".

The next time you’re standing at the dairy case in your local grocery store, please remember that ALL the milk you see before you is safe and nutritious.  Ultimately, the best dairy milk for you is whichever variety you enjoy the most, so make sure you’re including three servings of dairy products every day as part of your healthy diet!


Anonymous said...

Not exactly a clear answer... but I am gathering you do supplement your cows hormones with synthetic rBST. One of the problems with your answer and trying to convince us that rBST milk is safe, is that many many people don't trust the FDA. Have you looked into any of the other research out there?

Will Gilmer said...


I apologize for the lack of clarity in my answer. We have not used supplemental rBST on our dairy farm in many years. Additionally, we later signed an affidavit pledging that we would not use it on our farm as part of the marketing agreement between our dairy cooperative and its customers (dairy processors).

As for my statement that all milk and dairy products at the retail level are safe, I say that because I truly believe it. I base my opinion on my own experience, my own review of scientific food studies, and the professional opinions of dieticians and food scientists I trust. I am not offended if you or others don’t simply take my (or the FDA’s) word for it, and would encourage everyone to take a look at the many available study findings and opinions as a part of their own opinion-forming process.

There are MANY different choices in the grocery store’s dairy case, and all consumers should purchase the products they most enjoy and feel good about.

I hope this has helped!

Unknown said...

I'm a huge fan of milk and my extended family (dad's side) includes a number of former dairy farmers (they all left the industry by early 90s after several generations).

I respect your position.

That said, I won't drink milk that contains rBST supplements. I realize the industry and government line is that these are safe. But we won't really know, will me, until we've done true scientific experiments that strictly control everything except rBST supplements in dairy. That's effectively impossible (or extremely difficult) in an era that's full of all sorts of chemically-enhanced food and environmental substances.

I'd rather not be an experimental guinea pig for industrial farming methods (to the extent I have any control over what I consume).

I realize that you've said your dairy hasn't used rBST in over 10 years. Good for Gilmer Dairy Farm.

I can only deliver up my own excellent health as evidence of the success of my approach to how I consume food. Correlation does not equate to causation, so I have no proof. But I'll stick with what's working for me. No rBST to the extent I can avoid intake of dairy containing rBST.

We need more small dairy farmers and small family farmers who care about their customers. Thanks for being there and thanks for providing dairy products.

Will Gilmer said...

I guess I'm a little more trusting of the science behind the development and testing of rBST, but I respect your opinion and appreciate your support of dairy farmers. I'm happy that our industry provides rBST-free options that you can enjoy!

The Hill Hangout said...

I clicked over from Alabama Bloggers, and was delighted to read about your dairy farming. We always use organic milk and will look for your brand to purchase. We are a homeschooling family, and I would love to see if you'd be willing to let us visit your farm one day. We'd love to learn more about the process of getting our milk.

Anonymous said...

William -

I appreciate your level-headed approach on the subject.

But . . .

Essentially rBST is a hormone, the same as say, testosterone. Physical beings produce a wide variety of hormones and when man "tweaks them" we increase an outcome.

However, the use of steroids in humans is illegal because ...?

And while my use of steroids wouldn't be OK, it is OK to put this stuff in cows and consume their output . . . but not if it's raw - that's a crime in many states.

I'm sorry, but no - when it comes to food we ought to stick with what the good Lord gave us. When "man" starts thinking he knows better ... has anything good EVER come from that?

All the best to you dude -

Anonymous said...

I was looking up organic versus conventional milk and came across your blog. I really trust and appreciate your explanations. I have grown up on and still continue to drink conventional milk. BUT, I have been a little confused and have been toying with the idea of buying organic for my family. After readying this, I am going to continue to buy conventional milk for my family.

Thank you and I appreciate your blog! :)

Unknown said...

The rBST really isn't the cancer causing hormone it is the Insulin like Growth Factor(IGF-1), which is produced when drinking any type of milk soy, almond, organic, and rBST. this means there are other factors to blame for increasing levels of IGF-1 rather than rBST. The amount of IGF-1 produced by milk is so minute compared to the human body that produces more IGF-1 naturally on a daily basis than milk will. We should be Dissecting IGF-1 not rBST.

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