hormones in milk

Milk from Hormoned-Up Cows IS Different, Court Agrees

A landmark court decision means milk—and maybe other food, too—can be clear about its origins.

by Marian Burros

Milk from Hormoned-Up Cows IS Different, Court Agrees

A new court decision is good news for people who like their milk hormone-free.

RODALE NEWS, WASHINGTON, DC—The organic milk industry has won a significant battle with the state of Ohio over consumers' right to know what has been added to the milk their children drink. Or, more exactly, what hasn’t been added. The finding has implications for milk sold in other states, too, and—appropriately enough in non-GMO month—for other foods produced with hormone injections or from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In the simplest of terms, this landmark decision of the 6th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals (by a unanimous decision) allows a carton of milk to be labeled as rbGH-free without any qualifying statements.

THE DETAILS: The synthetic hormone rbGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rbST or recombinant somatatropin, is injected into cows, and makes them give more milk than they would naturally. There has been a long-standing argument about whether the injection of the hormone increases the level of a naturally occurring hormone called IGF-1 in the milk, which, in high levels, is believed to be a cancer-causing agent.

Now a fight that has dragged on for 16 years over claims companies want to make when their milk does NOT contain rbGH has finally been settled. Ohio had enacted regulations that would have prevented consumers concerned about hormones in milk from knowing whether milk sold in the state was free of the synthetic hormones. The court said those regulations could not stand.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its OK for the use of rbGH in the early 1990s, sales of organic milk began to climb, because organic rules prohibit the use of rbGH in milk production. Soon after the FDA OK, some brands of milk—both organic and conventional—were sold sporting notices that they were produced without the hormone. Farmers using the hormone opposed that claim, and the FDA sided with them, requiring that rbGH-free claims on dairy products had to be accompanied by an asterisk leading to the following statement: “The FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST supplemented and non rbST supplemented cows.”

Published on: October 5, 2010
Updated on: October 6, 2010

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