2018-10-25 / Opinions

Are there hormones in my milk?

Guest VIEWpoint
By Marianne Buza
MSU Extension Dairy Educator

Marianne Buza Marianne Buza When I tell people I work closely with the dairy industry in the Thumb of Michigan they often have questions for me. One of the questions I get frequently is: “Are there hormones in milk?”

The truth is: all foods, plant and animal-based, have hormones.

To start with an explanation we must understand what a hormone is. The Merriam- Webster definition of a hormone is a product of living cells that circulates in body fluids or sap and produces a specific effect on the activity of cells. In the grocery store, products are often labeled as hormone-free. This is often misleading or confusing information. Labels in stores are designed to catch your attention. Products try and make themselves stand out by being labeled as natural, hormone-free or non-GMO. This is misleading to so many consumers. The label of hormone-free is somewhat regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is often fine print on the package that explains what they mean by hormone-free. No plant or animal-based food can ever truly be hormone-free. Most of the labels are trying to communicate that there are no added hormones to the food. The label could also mean that the product, such as meat or milk, was raised without the animals receiving extra hormones.

In regard to the dairy industry, the hormone that was once used to increase the efficiency of milk production is known as rBST - or recombinant bovine somatotropin. Bovine somatotropin is a naturally produced hormone in a cow’s brain and rBST is a version of bovine somatotropin made in a lab using bacterial DNA. Bovine somatotropin is a cow-specific hormone. It is structurally different than a human hormone. This means it cannot be used by the human body. If ingested, this hormone is broken down by our digestive system and would be treated as if it were any other protein that was consumed.

In 1994, the FDA found that rBST was safe for human consumption and use in cattle. However, because of public demand and caution for about the last 10 years, no milk in Michigan comes from cows that were given rBST. None of the processers where dairy farms in Michigan sell their milk will allow a dairy farm to use rBST on their farm even though it is safe to use. So, before paying extra, be sure to take a look into what you are paying for.

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