rBGH, rBST and You

Posted by Green Diva Mom on Dec.06, 2009

© - lisegagne

© - lisegagne

From Sustainable Table

Despite opposition from scientists, farmers and consumers, the US currently allows dairy cows to be injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Developed and manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, this genetically engineered hormone forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent. In August 2008, Monsanto sold their Posilac division to Eli Lilly and Company for $300 million and ‘contigent consideration.’ (Eli Lilly exclusively sold Posilac outside the US for 10 years before the acquisition)(1). Today, controversy still surrounds whether or not rBGH is safe for cows and humans.

What Is rBGH & rBST?

Somatotropin is a naturally-occurring protein hormone produced in the pituitary gland of animals; Bovine Somatotropin (BST or bST) triggers nutrients to increase growth in young cattle and lactation (milk production) in dairy cows. Artificial BST is produced using recombinant DNA technology (biotechnology), and called rBST for short. rBST is commonly known as Bovine Growth Hormone or rBGH (2). When injected into cows, rBGH increases milk production 10-15 percent and in some cases up to 40 percent. Approximately 17% of all cows in the US are given the artificial growth hormone (4).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval for rBGH came in 1993. According to opponents of the drug, effects of rBGH were never properly studied. The FDA relied solely on one study administered by Monsanto in which rBGH was tested for 90 days on 30 rats. The study was never published, and the FDA stated the results showed no significant problems.

The FDA continues to assure consumers that rBGH is safe for cows and humans, despite evidence to the contrary. In 1994, the FDA prohibited dairies from claiming there was any difference between milk from rBGH-injected cows and milk produced without the artificial hormone (5). This controversy, discussed below, continues today.

In 1998, an assessment by Health Canada (Canada’s equivalent of the FDA), determined Monsanto’s results of their 90-day study showed concern and reasons for review before approval of rBGH (5, 6). Today, the European Union (7), Japan (8), Australia (9) and Canada (10) have all banned the use of rBGH due to animal and human health concerns.

Animal And Human Risks

A 1991 report by Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group, revealed serious health problems with the rBGH-injected cows that were part of a Monsanto-financed study at the University of Vermont. Problems included an alarming rise in the number of deformed calves and dramatic increases in mastitis, a painful bacterial infection of the udder which causes inflammation, swelling (11), and pus and blood secretions into milk (12).  To treat mastitis outbreaks, the dairy industry relies on antibiotics. Critics of rBGH point to the subsequent increase in antibiotic use (which contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria) and inadequacies in the federal government’s testing program for antibiotic residues in milk (13). The FDA relies on pasteurization to kill off bacteria, hormones and antibiotics in milk.

By the summer of 1994, the Wisconsin Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union set up a joint hotline for dairy farmers to use when reporting problems with artificial growth hormones in cattle. One lifelong New York dairy farmer reported losing a quarter of his herd to severe mastitis after beginning rBGH injections. The same farmer reported a drastic drop in production after taking his cows off rBGH; they suddenly produced less milk then they had before going on the drug. A year later, he replaced 135 of his original 200 cows. Other farmers using rBGH report similar problems, in addition to hoof diseases, open sores and bovine death stemming from internal bleeding (15).

Cows forced to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk can become malnourished because they lose more nutrients through their milk than they ingest in their feed (15), and are therefore more susceptible to disease. In addition to artificial hormones, factory farms also use such methods as selective breeding, feeding dairy cows large amounts of grain (instead of grass), and exposing cows to longer periods of artificial light to make them produce more milk. Cows put under large amounts of stress do not live as long as cows that are not stressed.

Milk from rBGH-treated cows contains higher levels of IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor-1). Humans also naturally have IGF-1, and increased levels in humans have been linked to colon and breast cancer. Even though no direct connection has been made between elevated IGF-1 levels in milk and elevated IGF-1 levels or cancer in humans, some scientists have expressed concern over the possibility of this relationship (16).

On the Offense

While the FDA was lax in its reviews of rBGH, Monsanto aggressively tried to suppress the health risks involved in the use of the hormone. In 2001, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two respected investigative journalists at a Fox News station in Tampa, Florida, were fired after months of controversy surrounding their investigative report on rBGH use in Florida dairies. According to the journalists, the station delayed airing their story and demanded they include inaccurate information about rBGH after Monsanto threatened the station with legal action (17).

In 2003, Monsanto asked the state of Maine to stop issuing an official Quality Seal, which the state only grants to dairies that do not use rBGH. Maine refused. Later that year, Monsanto sued Oakhurst Dairy, Maine’s largest dairy operation, over its rBGH-free labels. Ultimately, Oakhurst changed its labels, adding the statement, ‘FDA States: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone’ (18).

The 1998 reviews by Health Canada determined the use of rBGH increases the risk of mastitis by 25 percent, affects reproductive functions, increases the risk of clinical lameness by 50 percent, and shortens the lives of cows (19). Nonetheless, Monsanto lobbied the Canadian government hard to win rBGH approval. Dr. Margaret Hayden, a Health Canada researcher, reported to the Canadian Senate that officials from Monsanto had offered between $1 million to $2 million to Health Canada scientists-an offer she says could only be understood as an attempted bribe (20).

The Revolving Door

In light of the potential danger to the milk-drinking public and the proven danger to cows, how could the FDA allow rBGH on the market? Critics argue the approval was the result of pressure placed on the FDA by Monsanto and its powerful lobbyists. Dr. Richard Burroughs, a senior FDA scientist overseeing the rBGH safety studies, claims he was fired because his concerns about the safety of rBGH delayed the approval process (21).

Critics note and condemn a ‘revolving door’ between the FDA and Monsanto. For example, Michael Taylor, the FDA commissioner responsible for writing the labeling guidelines, had worked as a Monsanto lawyer for seven years before joining the FDA. While at Monsanto, he created their strategy for suppressing labeling information on rBGH. Likewise, the deputy director of the FDA’s New Animal Drugs Office had been a Monsanto research scientist working on rBGH safety studies, and another researcher in the same office had done Monsanto-funded rBGH research at Cornell University, working under a paid Monsanto consultant. Congress’ General Accounting Office ruled in 1994 that none of these cases of longstanding connections to Monsanto posed a conflict of interest (22). There are many more ties between Monsanto and the U.S. government today, including Supreme Court Justices, the FDA, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In The News Today

Despite Monsanto’s efforts to promote rBGH, farmers, consumers and health advocates are rejecting the hormone. In 2004, Monsanto announced a 50 percent cutback of Posilac(R) production due to repeated bacteria contamination at their plant in Austria (23). While rumors have circulated that Monsanto was preparing to phase out its sales of rBGH altogether, in 2006 they began production of Posalic(R) in a plant in Augusta, Georgia (24).

Out of growing consumer concern, some dairies label their milk as ‘rBGH-free’ or ‘No artificial growth hormones.’ In reaction to these labeling practices, a ‘grassroots’ non-profit called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT) formed in February 2008 in an attempt to outlaw this labeling practice, claiming it libel (25). The group receives funding from Monsanto and was formed by Osborne & Barr, an agriculture PR firm founded by two ex-Monsanto employees (26).

Action is currently taking place around the United States about these labeling practices, including:

  • In October 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, under the lead of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, outlawed the hormone-free labeling practice, claiming the labels are ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ to consumers (27). In reaction to public outcry, in January 2008, Governor Edward G. Rendell allowed hormone-free labeling to be reinstated (28).
  • In February 2008, Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs approved the use of rBGH-free labeling only if the FDA’s disclaimer, ‘no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-supplemented and non-rBST-supplemented cows,’ also be supplied. In March 2008, the Ohio Department of Agriculture revised the law, claiming milk cannot contain labeling of ‘compositional absence claims’ (like ‘hormone-free’ or ‘rBGH-free’) and may only make ‘production claims.’ Any mention of rBGH on a label must be accompanied by the FDA’s claim (29).
  • Effective July 2008, House Bill 1300, introduced by Rep. William Friend, in the Indiana House of Representatives passed. The Bill makes synthetic hormone-free labeling illegal, claiming it ‘misbranded’ if ‘compositional claims cannot be confirmed through laboratory analysis’ (29). According to Health Canada, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone cannot be detected in milk samples because it appears as regular Bovine Somatotropin in analysis (29).

Similar labeling controversies are currently underway in Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, Utah and Vermont, and will most likely surface in more states in the coming months. Monsanto continues to push the FDA to restrict the use of rBGH-free labeling.

While statewide controversies continue to surface, food producers and suppliers are listening to consumer concerns. In 2007, United States grocery chains Kroger (30) and Safeway (31) banned the use of rBGH-treated milk in their store-branded dairy products. In January 2008, Starbucks (32) stopped using rBGH-treated milk, and in March 2008, WalMart (33) banned rBGH use in their store-brand milk products.

What You Can Do

  • See the Sustainable Table’s rBGH-free dairy map to buy dairy products sold in your state that are artificial hormone free.
  • Visit the Eat Well Guide for an online listing of stores, restaurants and producers that sell rBGH-free dairy products.
  • Visit Sustainable table’s Questions to Ask page for questions to ask a dairy farmer.

Did You Know?

  • Large dairy farms, those with more than 500 cattle, inject more rBGH into cows than medium and small herd farmers. 54% of large herd farmers use rBGH, compared with 32% medium herd and 8% small herd farmers (34).
  • Cows injected with rBGH need more feed to produce milk at such demanding levels– that means more farmland planted with feed and more pollutants into the atmosphere. Planting, pesticide sprays, harvest and transport pollutes the soil and water. Around 10 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, in addition to other pollutants, are introduced into fields and waterways every year to feed CAFO cows (35).
  • Monsanto lists over 20 toxic side effects on its POSILAC label that rBGH has on cows (36).

Take Action


  1. Lilly. ‘Elanco Announces Acquisition of Posilac(R) Dairy Business‘ August 20, 2008.
  2. B.A. Crooker, et al. ‘Dairy Research and Bovine Somatotropin.’ University of Minnesota. 1994
  3. Schneider, Keith, ‘F.D.A. Warns the Dairy Industry Not to Label Milk Hormone-Free,’ New York Times, February 8, 1994.
  4. Statement of Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Research Associate Consumer Policy Institute, ‘FDA’s Safety Assessment of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.’ Consumer’s Union, December 15, 1998
  5. Health Canada. ‘Report of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada Expert Panel on Human safety of rbST.’ January 1999
  6. Council of the European Union. ‘Internal Market, Consumer Affairs and Tourism.’ 2289th Council meeting. Brussels, 28 September 2000
  7. Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. ‘Ministerial Ordinance on Milk and Milk products Concerning Compositional Standards.’ February 5, 2004.
  8. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. ‘A Risk Profile of Dairy Products in Australia: Food Standards Australia New Zealand.’ August 9, 2006.
  9. Health Canada. ‘Health Canada rejects bovine growth hormone in Canada.’ January 1999.
  10. Kastel, Mark, ‘Down on the Farm: The Real BGH Story Animal Health Problems, Financial Troubles.’ Rural Vermont, 1995.
  11. New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program Veterinary Resource. ‘Diagnosis of Mastitis and Diagnostic Methods for Investigating Udder Health Problems.’
  12. Hansen, Michael, Jean M. Halloran, Edward Groth III, and Lisa Y. Lefferts, Potential Public Health Impacts Of The Use Of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin In Dairy Production: Prepared for a Scientific Review by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, September 1997.
  13. Kastel, Mark, ‘Down on the Farm: The Real BGH Story Animal Health Problems, Financial Troubles.’ Rural Vermont, 1995
  14. Harris, Barney. ‘Energy Intake and Dairy Cow Fertility.’ University of Florida Extension Dairy Production Guide, Fact Sheet DS 45, August 1992.
  15. Hansen, Michael, Jean M. Halloran, Edward Groth III, and Lisa Y. Lefferts, Potential Public Health Impacts Of The Use Of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin In Dairy Production: Prepared for a Scientific Review by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, September 1997.
  16. Rampton, Sheldon and Stauber, John. ‘Monsanto and Fox: Partners in Censorship.’ PR Watch, Second Quarter 1998, Volume 5, No. 2.
  17. Kiley Mack, Sharon. ‘Maine Dairy Caves In to Pressure from Monsanto on rBGH-Free Labeling.’ Bangor Daily News, December 25, 2003.
  18. Report of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Expert Panel on rBST,’ Prepared for Health Canada, November 1998.
  19. Baxter, James, ‘Monsanto Accused of Attempt to Bribe Health Canada for rBGH (Posalic(R)) Approval.’ The Ottawa Citizen, October 23, 1998
  20. Reidhead, Paris. ‘Richard Burroughs, DVM: On FDA and Posalic(R)’ The Milkweed, January 2006.
  21. Ferrara, Jennifer, ‘Revolving Doors: Monsanto and the Regulators.’ The Ecologist, September’October, 1998
  22. Pollack, Andrew, ‘Maker Warns of Scarcity of Hormone for Dairy Cows.’ New York Times, January 27, 2004.
  23. lcer, Rachel, ‘Monsanto takes over production of milk hormone.’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2006.
  24. AFACT. ‘About Us.’
  25. Martin, Andrew. New York Times. ‘Fighting on a Battlefield the Size of a Milk Label.’ March 9, 2008.
  26. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. ‘Agriculture Department Notifies Companies About False or Misleading Milk and Dairy Product Labels.’ Press Release: Oct. 24, 2007.
  27. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. ‘Governor Rendell Says Consumers Can Have Greater Confidence in Milk Labels.’ January 17, 2008.
  28. Ohio Department of Agriculture. ‘Ohio Agriculture Department Files Revised Dairy Labeling Rule.’ News Release. March 25, 2008.
  29. Indiana General Assembly. ‘ House Bill No. 1300.’
  30. Kroger Corporate. ‘Kroger to Complete Transition to Certified rbST-Free Milk By Early 2008.’ Press Release. Cincinnati, Ohio. August 1, 2007
  31. McFarland, Janet. ‘Wal-Mart move ‘tipping point’ for non-hormone milk.’ Toronto Globe & Mail, March 22, 2008
  32. Starbucks. ‘Statement and Q&A-Starbucks Completes its Conversion ‘ All U.S. Company-Operated Stores Use Dairy Sourced Without the Use of rBGH. Accessed April 2008.
  33. WalMart Stores. ‘Wal-Mart Offers Private Label Milk Produced without Artificial Growth Hormone.’ March 21, 2008.
  34. Family Farm Defenders. “Bovine Growth Hormone.” July 9, 2008.
  35. Food and Water Watch. “rBGH: Anything But Green.
  36. Organic Consumers. “Information on Posilac, Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (aka rBGH or rBST): What is rBGH?
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Posted under Drinks, Other Beverages.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Frank Mcloud

    I send this e-mail to a wal-mart blog of rbst with no answer, I believe you ladies would like info, merry christmas

    Mr. Eduardo Castro-Wright or whom may concern:
    My name is Frank Mcloud and I would like to direct to your attention a concern that I learn not so long ago. I would like to inform you to further investigate some irregularities I gather while stopping at a gas station while on vacation driving through WI this late summer.
    At this gas station while drinking coffee I was overhearing this conversation early August or late July of this year. A group of older men were talking about this milk truck story that was suppose to go to a creamery which name I catch because I used to eat from Cheese purchase al Sam’s ( Belgioioso cheese factory), The story continue about an unusual visit of a inspector of a consumer protection agency ion the state of Wisconsin they found a illegal product BST on the farm. Later on I found its commercial name (Posilac) distributed by a company named Elanco (a division of Eli Lilly the pharmaceutical company). Deeper in the conversation I understand that the particular dairy had an agreement not add this product to the cow I don’t remember the name of the farm but I catch the name and phone of one of those fellows if that name is of any value. So the truck was going to dump the milk, I just wonder how long this has been going on. I was a consumer of that particular mozzarella brand and after that I was disgusted to found out they do not step to the plate. I imagine that to claim that they don’t use the product in question they have to sign a legal document. The fraud also involves the company that sell the product (Eli Lilly) which knowingly of the situation with the creamery restrictions still agrees to sell it breaking the agreement. It is like throwing a rock and hiding the hand I imagine that is good” Ethics”. Same for the nonprofit agency that just like a spectator letting things happen. What a shame! They are supposed to protect the consumer of what the label of the product is warranting. The Farmer guilt is the greed of using the product (BST). I imagine they need handicap, I hope this is not the majority of our honest dairy man in our country, and I am sure of that. I search the Internet and this product belong before to Monsanto the greediest company that wants to control world food and hunger, I imagine they have other higher profit investment trying to monopolize food. I have read a lot about this fact without giving an opinion until now. But it seems that during the years researchers have been bribed to say contrary about BST. In neighbor Canada the researchers did not wanted to receive the bribe. They life’s were destroyed by this companies but the consumer was protected as well as the cows. Thanks havens.
    I will imagine that Belgioioso as well as the hypocrite and lame agency in WI and accomplice Eli Lilly are just feeding use hormones and I hope you (Walmart) aren’t… As a consumer of Walmart I would like to hear a way that you could test this product in dairy products. Imagine if farmers could tell that they corn or soybean are infected with Monsanto technology, I could Imagine in this stage and age we could not distinguish it in their beef and dairy products. Unless your agreements are hard to penalize farmers with easy lawsuit, I don’t see how we could trust them. The other choice is that the companies that sell BST release the information to the public, and then all will be transparent.
    To end, I am getting more informed, what I would like to see if you “Walmart” give use more choice of Free BST dairy and process foods, so not only milk, cheese , ice cream , yogurt, butte ,etc, but also process food that that require cow’s milk as an ingredients in their composition. Don’t let this pharmaceutical companies take away our will and health. I believe this contradict your mission as a company
    With Regards

  2. Liz Huyna

    It’s good to see someone else who thinks like I do. With so much ignorance in the world these days it’s nice to know there’s someone out there who isn’t an idiot.

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