Hormones and Milk – The Deceptive Marketing Continues

Donald L. Yorlets, VMD
P.O. Box 205
4698 York Road
New Oxford, PA 17350

Recently South Central Pennsylvania has been plastered with new billboards touting the virtues of milk from Rutter’s Dairy. It is billed as “FREE OF ARTIFICIAL HORMONES” and “FREE OF ARTIFICIAL GROWTH HORMONES” on their milk jug labels.

I have been a large-animal veterinarian for 26 years and have been involved in the dairy industry all of my life. So, maybe I can help clarify what all this hormone talk is about. Was the “old milk” unsafe? Is the “new milk” really safer?

Hormones are naturally occurring compounds produced by all plants and animals (including humans) to regulate specific bodily functions. Take insulin for example, this is a protein hormone that helps our bodies utilize glucose (blood sugar)—without this hormone you will die. Our bodies produce and depend on hundreds and hundreds of hormones for us to live. Hormones are not limited to the animal kingdom; plants also depend on hormones to grow and develop.

So all of our food naturally contains many hormones, and consuming them is unavoidable. So now knowing that all food has many hormones, primarily protein based, what effect do they have on us? Well, protein hormones are simply broken down and digested to furnish our bodies with essential amino acids.

Let me first state that I have no concerns about the wholesomeness and safety of Rutter’s Milk or any other brand. My family has and will continue to buy Rutter’s Milk and know it is safe. My contention is that Rutter’s advertising is now very confusing and extremely misleading. So why is “no artificial hormones” coming up now?

Well in 1994 the FDA approved a synthetic compound named bovine somatotropin or rbST for short, it is also called bovine growth hormone (bGH). The “r” means that it was produced synthetically. This is a bio-identical hormone, — an exact copy of nature’s own bST, a protein hormone that is present in all cows and all cow’s milk in the exact same manner that human growth hormone (hGH) is present in human breast milk! Let me emphasize that BST, natural or synthetic is not a steroid and should not be confused with steroids.

So how is this used? Research dating back to the 1930s has shown that supplementing cows with bST would result in about a 10 percent increase in milk production. It wasn’t until recently that technology allowed for commercial manufacturing of bST. Since 1994 bST has been safely used by dairy producers to increase milk production. This product has been more thoroughly studied and evaluated than any other animal product. The FDA thoroughly examined its human safety, and during 12 years of use, I have never seen any harm to cows, which receive a simple injection every two weeks.

The increased milk production allows dairy farmers to produce our milk with fewer cows. This lowers production cost for dairy farmers and is better for the environment by reducing animal waste and land under production. These are all positive consequences of the use of rbST. Rutter’s however, joining a trend started by some national milk companies, has told its dairymen to stop using this safe and FDA-approved product. Long before Rutter’s joined the trend, milk companies found they could charge more for this product by convincing the unknowing consumer that this “new milk” is better and safer. The FDA has categorically stated that there is no difference between milk. All milk contains bST, and milk from treated cows contains no more bST than any other. In fact no test can distinguish between them.

Rutter’s advertisement would lead you to believe that artificial hormones are being added to the milk. The facts are that a bio-identical hormone was given to the cow to supplement her own natural levels of bST to increase her production.

Shame on Rutter’s. They are simply doing this for economic gain and not for food safety reasons. In addition to playing on people’s fears to hype their own milk, Rutter’s is not even compensating its dairymen for their increased cost as a result of losing this product.

Consumers need to know these facts: All milk contains bST, rbST is bio-identical to natural bST, all foods contain hormones, and use of rbST is good for the environment and helps local farmers. Rutter’s advertising that rbST is ”banned” in Canada and the European Union would lead you to believe that rbST milk is not safe. The reality is that while Canada and the European Union have not approved bST, it is not “banned”. Both of these countries have concluded that rbST milk is absolutely safe and they freely accept milk imports from countries using rbST. The use of bST in these countries is not approved for socio-economical reasons not for food safety reasons! Buying into the scare campaign of Rutter’s and other big dairy companies does nothing but take money out of your pocket and put it into theirs.

4 thoughts on “Hormones and Milk – The Deceptive Marketing Continues

  1. Reply from Ann Macrina in the Dept of Dairy and Animal Science. Ann is an expert on hormones and milk.

    Thank you for your comments and questions. Since some of my research focuses on steroids in milk, I’d like to address those issues for you. This is a confusing topic for consumers because of the misinformation presented and the general public’s fear of steroids. Let me share some data with you to help put milk estrogens and their role in our bodies in perspective. Milk has very low levels of estrogens, in fact so low that they are very difficult to measure. Whole milk contains about 4 picograms per milliliter of estradiol, the most potent estrogen and 10 picograms per milliliter of estrone. The recommended daily intake of three glasses of milk/day would provide approximately 10 nanograms of estrogen per day. That doesn’t mean much until you compare it to how much our bodies produce on a daily basis. A prepubertal 8-year-old girl produces about 54,000 nanograms per day. That’s at least 5000 times more estrogen than she would consume from milk. A postmenopausal woman taking hormone replacement therapy at a dose of 1 milligram of estradiol per day (that’s 1 million nanograms) would consume far more estradiol from her therapy than she would receive from milk. This assumes that consumption of whole milk. Because estrogens largely associate with the fat fraction of milk, lower fat or skim milks would have even less estrogen. In a recent study, milk labeled as rbST-free or organic actually had slightly more estradiol than conventionally labeled milk, but the concentrations in all the milks were very low.

    As for the earlier onset of puberty, we know from animal studies that the timing of puberty is related to body size. If an animal grows more quickly, it reaches puberty sooner. Better nutrition and over-consumption has lead to higher growth rates in today’s children, and this is likely the cause of earlier puberty. Estrogens in milk have been blamed for many health problems including reproductive disorders, teenage acne, and cancer. These conclusions were based on epidemiologic studies where they look at associations not cause-and-effect, experiments with rodents, or were simply speculative (i.e., with no supporting data).

    So, Elizabeth, the amount of estrogen consumed with milk is an extremely small fraction of what the body produces or what is delivered by hormonal therapy. At this level, it is highly unlikely that there would be any biological effect from estrogens consumed in milk.

  2. I appreciate your post because it brings up a couple of interesting points, and a couple of questions as well. I agree with you that there is a lot confusion regarding hormones altogether and secondly the use of scare tactics in advertising has been going on forever but that doesn’t make it right. I think most people just want reliable information so they can make good decisions about their health. Your area of expertise with regard to veterinary science is out of my league, however I have been studying bio identical hormone replacement therapy for midlife women because I am taking hormones and so are many of my friends. My question is, how do the hormones in dairy products and other foods effect natural hormones such as estradiol beta 17 and HGH. One of the arguments for not using hormone supplementation in food is with regard to the increased cases premature puberty, some people are blaming this on the additives in milk. The other conflict in information is that some reports say you need dairy to maintain bone health as you age and others are saying the stuff in dairy can lead to breast cancer. I appreciate your point of view, I like to read beyond the headlines but for me there are still a lot of unanswered questions with regard to hormones and antibiotics and dairy products. Thank you


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