What’s not used in production of organic milk may be as, or more important than the nutrients found in the milk itself. For example, as early as 1992, the U.S. General Accounting Office – the “watchdog” arm of Congress -- investigated the safety of “rBGH,” or “recombinant bovine growth hormone.” This synthetic or “man-made” hormone may be injected into conventional dairy cows to increase their milk production. We might think increased production would be good from an economic or efficiency standpoint. But there are hidden costs we must take into account with regard to environmental, animal, and human health.
For one, the GAO concluded that increased milk production resulting from rBGH treatment significantly increases the incidence of mastitis, a bacterial infection of the cow’s “teat.” The condition requires treatment with antibiotics, thus leading to higher levels of antibiotic residues in milk and beef.
In addition, rBGH-linked cases of mastitis are more difficult to treat, so they require longer courses of antibiotic therapy, and treatment with various antibiotics. This contributes to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is an increasingly serious public health threat.
Some of the antibiotics given to animals get excreted into their urine and feces and end up in manure. If this manure is added to soil where vegetable crops are grown, those vegetable roots can take up the antibiotics present in the soil, further adding to the human health risk of antibiotic resistance.
National professional health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health, have all expressed concern about the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals. The Union of Concerned Scientists explains that routine use of these critical drugs results in the loss of their effectiveness in treating people who suffer from serious illnesses. Authorities who study the threat of antibiotic resistance claim greater emphasis should be placed on keeping our milk supply antibiotic-residue free, not just within assumed “safe levels.” Only organic dairy cows are guaranteed not to receive antibiotics.
Second, treating dairy cows with synthetic growth hormone increases levels of “Insulin-like Growth Factor 1,” or “IGF-1” in milk, which may increase our risk for certain kinds of cancer.
Injecting cows with artificial hormones takes a toll on the quality and length of a dairy cow’s life.
The synthetic hormone is banned throughout the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In the U.S., a warning label accompanies the drug, stating it “is associated with increased frequency of use of medication in cows for mastitis and other health problems.”
Veterinarian, Dr. Paul Dettloff, describes an animal’s natural hormone system like a “symphony orchestra with everyone playing in harmony.”
Dettloff says: “When the tuba is the only one blasting away, you have an unbalanced orchestra.”
“Improved herd health” is one of the reasons why Vermont dairy farmer Regina Beidler says she and her husband Brent decided to switch to organic production methods -- “herd health and improved water quality.”
Similarly, California-based organic dairy farmer Rosie Burroughs recognizes the balance, harmony, and symbiotic relationships inherent in natural systems. For example, when talking about milk, she speaks about the connection to grasslands and watersheds. “When things work right with nature, it’s synergistic – it’s the best world.”