by Culinary Management Degree student Michelle Toman
Beautiful green pastures and flowering meadows are a vision of the past. Today’s meat industry looks more like thousands of wire cages and pens, crammed tightly with sick and injured animals who never see a ray of sunshine, or even have room to turn around. Hormones are pumped into animals to induce quick growth, causing their limbs to succumb to the weight before they are given the opportunity to build the muscle to sustain it. Most animals are fed large quantities of corn, which is not a natural diet. Even chickens are foragers, who stay healthy on small bugs, grasses and seeds. Cattle, pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese and other animals require similar foraging diets to maintain health.
Today’s meat industry is focused heavily on quantity and devoid of quality. Problems with filth and poor diet have encouraged growth of contaminates such as salmonella and E. coli. As production levels continue to rise, so do instances of poisoning and even death, related to food borne illnesses.
The ugly fact of dairy and meat (especially beef) is that many large producers are extensively using growth hormones to boost supply. This is not a new issue, bovine growth hormones used in the United States to boost beef and milk production has been the focus of debate for some time now. Those asserting the safety and efficacy of rBST – including scientific institutions, government authorities and the dairy and pharmaceutical industries – have seen their reassurances dismissed and their credibility attacked. (http://www.articlesbase.com/causes-and-organizations-articles/growth-hormones-in-food-507273.html) (rbstfacts.org)
Hormones are used to make cattle grow faster and America’s dairy cows are given a genetically-engineered hormone to increase their milk production. Although the United Stated Department of Agriculture and the FDA claim these hormones are safe, there is growing concern that hormone residues in meat and milk might be harmful to human health and the environment.
The female sex hormone estrogen was also shown to affect growth rates in cattle and poultry in the 1930s. Once the chemistry of estrogen was understood, it became possible to make the hormone synthetically in large amounts. Synthetic estrogens started being used to increase the size of cattle and chickens in the early 1950s. DES was one of the first synthetic estrogens made and used commercially in the US to fatten chickens. DES was also used as a drug in human medicine and was found to cause cancer and its use in food production was phased out in the late 1970s. But although growing numbers of consumers and scientists have expressed concerns about potential human health risks of this practice, in the 1970’s the USDA and FDA had approved the use of six hormone growth promotants (HGPs) in the cultivation of beef. The six hormones include three which are naturally occurring; Oestradiol, Progesterone and Testosterone and three which are synthetic; Zeranol, Trenbolone, and Melengestrol and one more hormone used to increase milk productivity which is called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH for short) and also known as rBST. (envirocancer.cornell.edu), (articlesbase.com)
As early as the 1930s, it was realized that cows injected with material drawn from bovine (cow) pituitary glands (hormone secreting organ) produced more milk. Later, the bovine growth hormone (BGH) from the pituitary glands was found to be responsible for this effect. However, at that time, technology did not exist to harvest enough of this material for large-scale use in animals. In the 1980s, it became possible to produce large quantities of pure BGH by using recombinant DNA technology (Recombinant DNA is a form of artificial DNA that is created by combining two or more sequences that would not normally occur together through the process of gene splicing). In 1993, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as bovine somatotropin (rBST) for use in dairy cattle. Recent estimates by the manufacturer of this hormone indicate that 30% of the cows in the United States (US) may be treated with rBGH. (envirocancer.cornell.edu)
When injected into cows, rBST (also known as rBGH) increases milk production 10-15% and in some cases up to 40%. 2011. (sustainabletable.org)
The hormone rBGH is normally administered to a cow via a hypodermic syringe. The injection is usually made in the animal’s hindquarters near the base of the tail. The increased amount of BST introduced into her body stimulates the cow to increase her intake of food and water. rBGH is designed to be used in synchronization with the cow’s natural lactation cycle. That cycle begins with very high milk production immediately following the birth of a calf. Sometime thereafter, milk production begins to decline and decreases at a fairly steady rate until she goes dry. rBGH is administered to cows just before their lactation cycle begins to go into decline. It has little effect on a cow in the first phase after freshening; the animal is then already at peak production and additional rBGH will generally not yield more milk. (rbstfacts.org)
The six hormone growth promotants are implanted or injected into cattle in various stages of maturity. The FDA, however, does not permit injecting calves with these hormones. The male hormone testosterone and its synthetic equivalent trenbolone acetate, and the female hormone progesterone–including three synthetic derivatives zeranol, 17 beta-estradiol, and melengestrol acetate (MGA)–are either implanted or injected into the cows. Melengestrol is a feed additive and is not injected, but added to the feedstock. Hormones are also said to help the animal improve its nutrient absorption. This translates into feedstock needed for the animal to reach its finish weight (market weight). Hormones help to improve meat quality by changing the distribution of fat, producing the lean meat that consumers desire. (articlesbase.com)
Industrial farms use a number of methods for increasing milk production in dairy cows, including selective breeding, feeding grain-based diets (instead of grass), and exposing cows to longer periods of artificial light. Yet, one of the most common and controversial ways to force greater milk production is to inject them with rBGH. (sustainabletable.org)
Manufacturers benefit from the use of the hormones manufactured by the company because it results in an estimated 12% increase in the US milk supply. However, it is argued that the US did not need higher milk supply. It is said that since the l950s, America’s dairies have consistently produced more milk than the nation could consume, the surplus being bought up every year by the Federal Government to prevent the price from plummeting. (articlesbase.com)
Beef producers inject their cattle with growth hormones because they improve meat quality by increasing the development of lean meat and decreasing fat content. This increases feed efficiency thereby allowing more growth with less feed, and reduces costs for producers, thereby reducing the price of meat and meat products for consumers. (copperwiki.org)
In 1987, Monsanto submitted to the FDA a new animal drug application for Posilac, a synthetic growth hormone that increases milk production in dairy cows (also known as an rBST or rBGH). It took Monsanto over six years to bring rBST to market, and Monsanto supplemented the application with studies and reports documenting the safety and effectiveness of the drug. They contend that rBST is a supplement used to help cows produce more milk. Because of the fact that the supplement is injected into the cow and not the milk, they insist that the resulting milk is exactly the same. After reviewing those materials, the FDA approved Monsanto’s application for the use of Posilac in 1993. In January 1994, a Congressional task force concluded that the FDA’s position was adequately supported. 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. (sustainabletable.org)
In addition to approving rBST for public use, the FDA had to determine whether milk from rBST treated cows should be labeled differently than regular milk. Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords asked the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to formally investigate the FDA’s approval of rBST in 1998 especially since the FDA employee in charge of labeling guidelines for rBST, Michael R. Taylor, had been a Monsanto vice president. And the FDA researcher charged with evaluating rBST levels in milk had done the same work at Monsanto. (Rosenberg)
Besides enforcing requirements necessary to ensure that the labeling is not false or misleading, the FDA is prohibited from placing some additional requirements on labeling – the agency cannot require labeling based solely on differences in the production processes of identical foods. After an extensive agency investigation, the FDA found that there was no material difference between milk from rBST-treated cows and milk from non-rBST-treated cows, and accordingly it could not impose additional labeling requirements. The standard for determining if two foods are the same is a materiality standard. Materiality relates to nutritional, organoleptic, or functional characteristics of the food. In general, the FDA has not found that foods from genetically modified organisms are different than their conventional counterparts. Therefore, the FDA could not require any additional labeling of rBST milk. (fda.gov)
In International Dairy Foods Association v. Boggs, the 6th Circuit determined that Ohio’s 2008 law prohibiting the labeling of milk from non-rBST treated cows was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The court based this decision in part on its finding that the two milks were in fact different, thus overruling the FDA’s prior determination. The court cites three reasons milk produced by rBST-treated cows is different: increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, a period of milk with lower nutritional quality during each lactation, and increased somatic cell counts in the milk. The court further noted that higher somatic cell counts indicate milk is poor quality and will turn sour more quickly. (ohioaglaw.wordpress.com)
Later, the FDA advised that milk from untreated cows could be labeled as such, but recommended the inclusion as a disclaimer that accompanying the statement “from cows not treated with rBST” with the statement that “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non rBST treated cows.” The FDA continues to assure consumers that rBGH is safe for cows and humans, despite evidence to the contrary. (sustainabletable.org)
The FDA, which approved rBST, requires a package insert that lists 16 harmful medical conditions that rBST increases. Some examples: The use of Posilac may result in reduced pregnancy rates, cows injected with Posilac may have small decreases in gestation length and birth weight of calves, may result in an increase in digestive disorders such as indigestion, bloat, and diarrhea, cows injected with Posilac had increased numbers of enlarged hocks and lesions (e.g. lacerations, enlargements, calluses) of the knee, and second lactation or older cows had more disorders of the foot region. In some herds, the use of Posilac has been associated with increases in somatic cell counts, cows injected with Posilac are at an increased risk for clinical mastitis. This potentially fatal mammary gland infection is the most common disease in dairy cattle in the United States. This disease can be identified by abnormalities in the udder such as swelling, heat, redness or pain. Other indications of mastitis may be abnormalities in milk such as a watery appearance, flakes, clots, or pus. “Mastitis 101 – The Basics, UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension.” (vetmed.ucdavis.edu)
The USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System 2002 study said that “cost and animal health were major concerns” identified in all regions of the country by farmers. A 2008 study on the California dairy industry found that “current and prospective users still had concerns about the effect of rBST on the health of their herds . . .” and in a survey found that 15% of farmers cited high veterinary costs as a “very important” reason for disadopting rBST. (vetmed.ucdavis.edu)
RBST has been shown to evoke a response in all cows that receive it. However, the range of that response will vary among individual animals. In some cows, the resulting increase in milk production will be considerable. In others, it may be less pronounced. A farmer may decide that, in some animals, the cost of supplementation as well as the cost of the increased food and water the animal consumes may not be offset by the increased milk she yields. Cows that receive this hormone typically last only two lactation cycles before they are slaughtered and non-rBGH cows normally produce milk for 4-7 years and can live as long as 10 years. (vetmed.ucdavis.edu)
Despite warnings from scientists, such as Dr. Michael Hansen from the Consumers Union and Dr. Samuel Epstein from the Cancer Prevention Coalition, that milk from rBGH-injected cows contains substantially higher amounts of a potent cancer tumor promoter called IGF-1, and despite evidence that rBGH milk contains higher levels of pus, bacteria, and antibiotics, the FDA gave the hormone its seal of approval, with no real pre-market safety testing required. (consumersunion.org)
There are also questions whether hormone residues in the meat of “growth enhanced” animals and can disrupt human hormone balance. rBGH is said to be responsible for a number of health issues ranging from premature puberty in children, causing developmental problems, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer due to the increased antibiotic residues and elevated levels of IGF-1. (Rosenberg)
Children, pregnant women and the unborn are thought to be most susceptible to these negative health effects. Hormone residues in beef have been implicated in the early onset of puberty in girls, which could put them at greater risk of developing breast and other forms of cancer. A recent study found that women who routinely ate beef were far more likely to give birth to boys who grow up to have lower-than-normal sperm counts. Other health concerns, especially in regards to women, is how this genetically modified hormone can interfere with a woman’s sensitive hormonal system and could also affect human reproduction as it is currently doing to cow’s reproductive system. (sustainabletable.org), (copperwiki.org)
In a 1998 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 the approval of rBGH. The unpublished rat study Monsanto supplied to the FDA for drug approval claimed no rats absorbed rBST in their blood stream–hence there was no need for long term toxicity studies–but Canadian scientists who obtained the study discovered that 20% to 30% of the rats did absorb rBST with biggest concentrations in the prostate and there were also thyroid cysts. (Rosenberg)
Both Canada and the European Union explicitly turned down use of rBST due to adverse animal health impacts. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Expert Panel of rBST, set up by Health Canada, found that that use of rBST was associated with an increased risk of various animal health problems: mastitis up by 25%, infertility by 18%, lameness by 50%, and culling by 20-25%. Health Canada announced in January 1999 that it “had to reject the request for approval to use rBST in Canada, as it presents a sufficient and unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows.” A scientific committee in the European Union found that “BST use causes a substantial increase in levels of foot problems and mastitis and leads to injection site reactions in dairy cows. These conditions, especially the first two, are painful and debilitating, leading to significantly poorer welfare in the treated animals. Therefore from the point of view of animal welfare, including health, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare is of the opinion that BST should not be used in dairy cows.” Today, 25 nations of the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada have all banned the use of rBGH due to animal and human health concerns. (organicvalley.coop)
Nutrient flows from animal production systems are also of particular environmental concern. Only a proportion of the cow’s daily intake is captured in milk, with the remainder excreted via feces and urine. Dairy manures therefore contain appreciable quantities of nutrients and production in a ratio that is inefficient in meeting crop nutrient needs. Applying sufficient manure to fulfill nutrient requirements may saturate the soil’s production-holding capacity, allowing excess to transfer into water courses via surface runoff and increasing the potential for erosions to occur. (sustainabletable.org)
Carbon dioxide is recognized to be the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, with emissions from animal agriculture resulting from two main sources: livestock metabolism and fossil fuel consumption. The total reduction in global warming potential conferred by rBST supplementation of one million dairy cows is equivalent to removing ≈400,000 family cars from the road or planting ≈300 million trees. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Fossil fuel consumption raises two major environmental concerns: atmospheric pollution and resource sustainability. As a consequence of the reduced herd population and total feed requirement from rBST supplementation of one million cows, the energy required from fossil fuels (cropping only) and electricity for milk production is decreased by 729 × 106 MJ per year and 156 × 106 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, respectively. To put these figures into context, the savings in gasoline alone would be sufficient to power ≈1,550 passenger cars, each traveling an average of 12,500 miles per year. Furthermore, the total fossil fuel British thermal units (BTU) and electricity savings would provide sufficient annual heat and electricity for ≈16,000 and 15,000 households, respectively. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
To date, the U.S. has yet again allowed Monsanto the freedom to unleash its possibly lethal products on the unsuspecting consumer. And so, it comes down to a battle between the FDA (and its supporters) and those who don’t follow the FDA. Proposed bans on rBGH-free labels are not to protect the consumer, they are to protect Monsanto’s pocketbook.
Manmade chemicals and genetically modified foods pose very serious health issues to your family. This is why it’s very important to learn what chemicals and ingredients are being put into packaged and processed foods in order to take greater control of your health and life and to help to avoid serious health issues.
Purchasing meats in the grocery store is not the only source of concern. Most restaurants, fast food suppliers, and even children’s lunch menus at school are in question. Don’t be afraid to ask where the meat your child is being fed at school comes from, and don’t be afraid to challenge these sources if you don’t agree with them. Anyone who is willing to take up the fight to demand safe food for their families can help diminish some of the problems caused by mass meat production.