Got Any Idea What’s in Milk?

Terry Etherton

ABCNews.com presented a story on ABC World News Tonight on April 12, 2007 – the topic was Got Any Idea What’s in Milk? Miguel Marquez was the reporter.

Guess what? The story was slanted in an anti-science and anti-scientist manner. Some viewers who watched might conclude, “must be something wrong with conventional milk”. As readers of Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology know, all milk is the same – irrespective of whether is conventional, rbST-free or organic. The only difference within a fat class (i.e., skim, 2% or full-fat) is the price!

If you elect to purchase rbST-free or organic you are paying a whole lot more for nothing!

The slant of the story is unfortunate but not new. There were positive elements. Mr. Marquez interviewed a dairy producer who uses rbST.

The report was introduced by Charles Gibson who conveyed that a lot of milk is produced by a synthetic hormone (rbST) that is injected into cows. WOW, the “word play” used is interesting. More than a few consumers likely interpret “synthetic” to mean bad. Is the production of rbST using the tools of biotechnology and the same biology as what happens in the body to produce naturally occurring bST of concern? Absolutely not!

Don’t hear many folks expressing concern about synthetic tires, toasters, or cars, do you? The ability to make or synthesize all the “stuff” we have in society is remarkable.

I have never heard of an individual with diabetes who takes synthetic (recombinant) human insulin express concern. Have you? It is a life saver.

Parents of children who don’t produce somatototropin (yes, the human counterpart of bST) are NOT complaining that their children have to take synthetic (recombinant) human somatotropin (rhST). They celebrate. Guess why? Administration of rhST helps these children grow. In the absence of rhST treatment they would be short statured for life.

There are countless other example of recombinant proteins that are “synthesized” that have huge benefits in society.

So, synthetic is GOOD.

It seems that a standard approach for some journalists is to talk with some consumers. I understand this – it shows people’s perspectives about an issue. However, the outcome can be a “venture” when it comes to science and the food system.

Science illiteracy is staggeringly high in the United States.

One person interviewed shared, “I notice girls hitting puberty a little bit earlier. The ones who had a lot of milk in their diet…that had the regular milk that had the hormones….”

Well, all milk has the same hormones, both protein and steroid. There is no such thing as hormone-free milk. Moreover, rbST has no biological effects in humans. This has been discussed at great length in my Blogs. There is no way that bST or rbST in milk induces early puberty. Unfortunately that perspective was not shared in the story.

Another component of the story was a parent relating “…Well, it just makes sense to me to try to make sure that our food is as clean as possible.” That is an interesting perspective. We have the safest food supply in recorded history. Pasteurized milk is as safe as any food product can be that is sold in the grocery story. ALL pasteurized milk is equally safe – conventional, rbST-free and organic!

An employee of Food & Water Watch (FWW) was interviewed. What a great way to present an anti-rbST message! The greater societal good is NOT served by interviewing folks like those at FWW who are in the business of using deception and misinformation to scare consumers about rbST-containing milk. This part of the interview was a dandy example of the smoke and mirrors campaign that FWW and other anti-science groups have used to push retailers, like Starbucks, to reduce their use of conventional milk.

My encouragement to all journalists and aspiring journalists writing about science and society – interview some scientists! In this story there were no credible scientists interviewed.

My other encouragement to science journalists – appreciate that the scientific method and science are the among the most wonderful things that we humans have ever developed. Does anyone want to stop science and the discovery of new medicines and biotechnologies that help society? Oh yeah, the “trolls” who have ongoing attack campaigns designed to scare consumers about food biotechnologies and production practices that allow fewer farmers that ever in recorded history to feed more people than ever before.

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