Growth Hormone in Milk-Producing Cows: For the Consumer, Much Ado About Nothing...Perhaps

ABSTRACT - Despite concerns of consumer protection and environmental groups that the use of genetically-produced growth hormone in milk-producing cows will adversely impact the safety of the milk supply, scientific evidence and governmental findings appear to indicate that milk from treated cows is identical in quality, taste, and nutritional value to milk from untreated cows. Limited experience to date in the United States demonstrates little consumer resistance to milk from cows which have received the growth hormone, which can lead to a 15% increase in milk production. In fact, if there is no perceived difference between the two forms of milk, the issue may have little practical impact on consumers at large, and may result in economic benefit to dairy farmers. The information available to date indicates that members of the international community may have acted hastily in enacting lengthy moratoriums against the use of bovine growth hormone in milk-producing cows.



Citation:

J. Robert Skalnik, Patricia C. Skalnik, and David E. Smith (1995) ,"Growth Hormone in Milk-Producing Cows: For the Consumer, Much Ado About Nothing...Perhaps", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 201-203.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 201-203

GROWTH HORMONE IN MILK-PRODUCING COWS: FOR THE CONSUMER, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING...PERHAPS

J. Robert Skalnik, National University

Patricia C. Skalnik, Azusa Pacific University

David E. Smith, Copenhagen Business School

ABSTRACT -

Despite concerns of consumer protection and environmental groups that the use of genetically-produced growth hormone in milk-producing cows will adversely impact the safety of the milk supply, scientific evidence and governmental findings appear to indicate that milk from treated cows is identical in quality, taste, and nutritional value to milk from untreated cows. Limited experience to date in the United States demonstrates little consumer resistance to milk from cows which have received the growth hormone, which can lead to a 15% increase in milk production. In fact, if there is no perceived difference between the two forms of milk, the issue may have little practical impact on consumers at large, and may result in economic benefit to dairy farmers. The information available to date indicates that members of the international community may have acted hastily in enacting lengthy moratoriums against the use of bovine growth hormone in milk-producing cows.

INTRODUCTION

Since 1993, when the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of genetically engineered growth hormone to stimulate milk production in cows, worldwide concern has been expressed by consumer protection groups which fear that the genetically manipulated hormone, known as bovine somatotropine (bST) and an earlier version porcine somatotropine (pST), may negatively impact the safety of milk; and by small dairy farmers who predict that increased, more efficient milk production will lead to lower prices and, ultimately, put them out of business (Greising 1993). Another concern, according to Blayney, Fallert and Shayle (1991) is animal health and welfare. Although Agricultural Marketing (1994) reports that only 7% of dairy producers in the United States have used the bST hormone in their cow herds in 1994, many other farmers are concerned about, as one put it, "having technology shoved down our throats."

Contrary to widespread characterizations, bST, also known as bovine growth hormone (BGH), is not an artificial "drug." It is, in fact, produced from the same genes cows use to produce the hormone naturally in the pituitary glands. Marketed by Monsanto under the trade name Posilac, bST is a natural hormone in cows which is manufactured in vats of genetically-altered bacteria (Savitz 1992). Cows receiving regular doses of the hormone can increase their milk production up to 15%; average increase is in the 10% range (Garry 1994). Monsanto claims that milk from cows treated with bST is no different from ordinary milk, either in taste or quality.

Government officials apparently agree. "There is virtually no difference between treated and untreated cows," says FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler. "This has been one of the most extensively studied animal drug products to be reviewed by the agency. We examined more than 120 studies. There were several advisory committees. The public can be confident that milk and meat from bST-treated cows are safe to consume" (Ropp 1994).

In any event, notes Chemical Marketing Reporter (1993), the approval of bST gives Monsanto new access to a global market estimated at $500 million annually.

OBJECTIVES

Reaction from the consumer marketplace as a whole is difficult to predict. Some attitudinal consumer research in the United States has indicated that consumer resistance may lead to a significant decrease in milk consumption after widespread introduction of bST milk (Ropp 1994). The United States Government concluded in January, 1994 that the social and economic impacts of bST would be minimal. Some farmers counter that increased milk production will drive prices down, making it more difficult for milk producers in the United States to export dairy products, and for smaller farmers to survive.

Limited experience to date seems to indicate that no significant reduction in demand for milk or dairy products appears imminent as a result of bST. Although some surveys reveal pockets of resistance, others indicate overall confidence in the quality and safety of the milk supply, and no intent to avoid consumption of bST-treated milk (Ropp 1994). Indeed, if the everyday consumer does not detect a difference between milk from bST-treated cows and milk from untreated cows, the entire issue may remain largely invisible to the general consumer.

BACKGROUND

Historically, the application of biotechnology to agriculturally-related enterprises has been the subject of both scientific and political controversy dating back fifty years. It was not until 1979 that Cornell University scientists initiated the first study on the effect of recombinant bovine somatotropine (bST) on the milk-producing capacity of dairy cows. Throughout the 1980s, development of more sophisticated recombinant DNA techniques made possible the genetic transformation of both plants and animals (Eppard and Bauman 1984).

In 1985 the FDA ruled that meat and milk from cows treated with bST are safe for human consumption, but the agency held back its approval for use of the hormone as a veterinary drug to allow further research into its effects on animal health (Brookes and Young 1992).

In 1986, the Reagan administration issued a framework for regulating biotechnology through existing laws, to be implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During the early 1990s, the first genetically engineered foods became available to the general public.

In 1992, in a significant regulatory decision, the FDA elected not to require premarket notification or labeling for most genetically-engineered foods from plants. In 1994, however, the State of Maine passed a law directing farmers using artificial bST to register that information with the dairies they supply, and establishing an official label for milk from untreated cows. Likewise, the State of Vermont has enacted legislation requiring food companies to put a label on dairy products made with milk from bST-treated cows.

The European Community has taken a different stand on the bST issue by banning the use of the genetically altered hormone in member countries for a five-year period, until the year 2000 (Official Journal of the European Communities 1994). Although this may seem reactionary, according to Usher (1988) it is in reality, a continuation of the early EEC policies, which set out five objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy:

(1) to increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress and by ensuring the rational development of agricultural production and the optimum utilization of the factors of production, in particular, labor;

(2) to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community;

(3) to stabilise markets;

(4) to assure the availability of supplies; and

(5) to ensure that supplies reach consumers at reasonable prices.

The European Court has enforced these agricultural policies as being intended to give certain guarantees of means to agricultural producers and exclude non-member countries from the marketplace.

THE CONTROVERSY

The hormone in question, recombinant bovine somatotropine (bST), was the first genetically engineered product to be approved by the FDA. Supporters argue that genetically engineered products, in general, will produce healthier, better-tasting foods at lower costs. Farmers' dependence on toxic chemicals will decrease, and the world's food supply will increase to meet the demands of a rapidly growing global population. According to Hileman (1993), the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee of the FDA found that the bovine growth hormone contained only an "insignificant but manageable" risk to human health. Barbano (1994) reports that there is no evidence that milk from dairy cows given supplements of BGH carries any additional health and safety risks.

The FDA's conclusions regarding the use of bST in milk-producing cows have been seconded in recent years by the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, the Congressional Office of Technological Assessment, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and by the drug regulatory agencies of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union (Ropp 1994).

Despite these published findings, critics contend that the impact on nutrition or toxicity of bST, not to mention other genetically engineered foods, is not well-enough understood by the scientific community. For example, they argue, studies have shown that bST-treated cows may be more susceptible to udder infections known as mastitis (Elmer-Dewitt 1994). The potential risk for humans is attributed to the possibility that residues of the antibiotics used to treat the infected cows might find their way into the supply of milk consumed by humans (McCalla and Josling 1985).

Some scientific evidence seems to support these types of concerns. For instance, the use of bST has been found to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), in milk. In humans, elevated levels of IGF-1 can cause abnormal enlargement of the hands, feet, nose, and chin, and have been linked to colon and breast cancer.

The Pure Food Campaign, along with Consumers' Union, the Human Society, the New Council on Food Safety, and other consumer protection organizations, have spoken out against the use of bST (Garry 1994).

Critics such as Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health (Phillips 1994), suggest that consumption of milk from cows treated with bST could present a breast cancer risk to adult women. Furthermore, concern has been expressed that fetuses and infants exposed to high levels of IGF-1, either through maternal consumption, breast milk, or milk-based formula, might be more susceptible to developing breast cancer as adults. Nevertheless, the FDA has concluded that IGF-1 in milk is fully digested by humans, and thus does not present a health risk.

The subject of health risk, as it relates to bST-treated cows themselves, is also pertinent to this discussion. As early as 1985, the FDA ruled that meat and milk from cows treated with bST was safe for human consumption but withheld approval pending further testing on the impact of the hormone on the health of the animals. Subsequent investigation has demonstrated that, although cows injected with bST may develop infections requiring treatment with antibiotics, so, too, may cows that have not been injected. (McCalla and Josling 1985).

Moreover, it has been suggested, poor herd management rather than administration of bST could be the cause of excessive levels of infection. Indeed, a 1990 FDA report (Ropp 1994) found that well-managed bST-treated cows experience no greater health problems than untreated cows of equal milk production, and that calves of bST-treated cows have normal birth weights, growth and development.

CONSUMER RESPONSE

Heated controversy and debate on both scientific and emotional battlefields notwithstanding, the response to hormone-treated milk from consumers at large may be difficult to ascertain, particularly if special labeling provisions are not adopted. For all practical purposes, there are no differences in the nutrient content of milk from bST-treated cows. And if, as Monsanto claims, milk from treated cows is indistinguishable in taste and quality from that of untreated cows, then consumers may not perceive any differences. Initially, at least, the debate may be moot to the consuming public. It may be that many of the qualities engineered into bST-treated cows are designed to benefit farmers and food processor, not consumers.

According to Robert Goodman, Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin (Phillips 1994), "This is why it has been so easy to make the argument against bST. It doesn't improve the taste, the quality, or the nutritional value of the milk. We already have a milk surplus in this country. So there's nothing in it for the consumer."

Wang, Boisvert and Kaiser (1994), in studying dairy policy alternatives under bST, have suggested that the rate of adoption of bST may be slower than had been indicated by earlier surveys. Indeed, The Economist (1994) reports that public opposition to bST appears to be strong. Since the hormone was approved, the Pure Food Campaign claims to have enlisted 200 producers and retailers, including 7-Eleven and the United States' largest supermarket chain, to avoid milk produced with bST. According to Tauer (1994), some producers are segmenting their products for bST and non-bST produced milk markets.

Meanwhile, Monsanto has reported that sales of the hormone have exceeded expectations. As of April, 1994, it was estimated that about 15% of the milk supply in the United States comes from cows that have been treated with bST (Lucas, 1994).

ECONOMIC IMPACT

While the economic impact of bST-treated milk is also difficult to estimate, the United States Office of Management and Budget has reported that the use of bST will most likely have a small but positive effect on the United States economy and environment. Use of bST will reduce the amount of animal waste per unit of milk produced and will also lower the amount of feed required to produce a unit of milk.

Moreover, the United States Government reports that the effective use of bST has nothing to do with farm size (Barbano, 1994). Unlike most emerging technologies, there are no up-front, start-up costs required before a farmer implements "bST technology" on his herd. Small farms will have access to this technology equal to their larger counterparts. It is, in fact, the "quality of management" on the farm, not farm size itself, that will be the primary factor impacting the milk production response from bST. Superior farm managers will benefit most significantly from bST, regardless of the size of their farms.

The government report, "The Use of Bovine Somatotropine (bST) in the United States: Its Potential Effects" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1994), notes that:

(1) Income for individual farmers who adopt bST is likely to increase. Productivity and profit per cow should rise for both large and small farmers. Recombinant bST favors good herd management rather than large or small farms.

(2) bST use will increase U.S. milk production by about one percent through the fiscal year 1999. This will lead to slightly lower prices for milk, averaging about 2% lower over the next six years.

(3) Lower milk prices are expected to contribute to higher federal government dairy price-support costs, but decreased federal costs for nutrition programs.

(4) Federal dairy price-support programs would increase by approximately $150 million in the peak year, 1996, and decline in later years.

(5) Savings in the costs of federal feeding programs would begin in 1997, and could completely offset the increased cumulative costs of the federal dairy price-support program over the next 10 years.

(6) No significant reduction of demand for milk and dairy products is expected to result from bST use.

CONCLUSIONS

Despite the controversies and uncertainties described, the introduction in the United States of milk from bST-treated cows has had little impact on consumer demand or price. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence indicates that such milk is identical in quality, taste, and nutritional value to milk from untreated cows. Although the European Community has placed a moratorium on the use of bST in member countries until the year 2000, other advances in genetic engineering relating to food production may ultimately be impossible to resist.

In fact, bST may be only the beginning of a new trend toward the use of biotechnology on the farm, a trend that even the most resistant consumers will have difficulty avoiding. Newer techniques could make bST obsolete. For example, advanced animal reproduction techniques could lead to genetically superior animals; cows developed to produce higher natural levels of bST so that injections of the artificially-produced hormone are no longer necessary. Furthermore, newer products hold promise for improving overall animal health, thus potentially reducing the risk of infections and related diseases (Kalter 1985).

REFERENCES

Agricultural Marketing (1994), "Dairy Farmers Report bST Usage," 32(7) (July-August),43.

Barbano, David M. (1994), "What's the Fuss about Cow Hormone?" Consumer Research Magazine, 77(5),14.

Blayney, Don P., Richard F. Fallert and Shayle D. Shagam (1991), "Controversy over Livestock Growth Hormones Continues," Food Review, 14(4)(October-December), 6-9.

Brookes, Graham and Nick Young (1992), "BST: Assessing its Impact on Milk Consumption, British Food Journal, 94(5),26-31.

Chemical Marketing Reporter (1993), "FDA Approves Monsanto's Milk Producing Hormone," 244(20) (15 November),3,20.

Elmer-Dewitt, Phillip (1994), "Brave New World of Milk," Time, 143(7),31.

Eppard P.J. and D.E. Bauman (1984), "The Effect of Long-Term Administration of Growth Hormone on the Performance of Lactating Cows," in Proceedings of the 1984 Cornell Nutrition Conference, 30 October-1 November, Syracuse, New York.

Garry, Michael (1994), "The Milk Dilemma," Progressive Grocer, 73(5)(May), 85-90.

Greising, David (1993), "Crying over Unnatural Milk," Business Week, (3347)(22 November),48.

Hileman, Bette (1993), "FDA Panel Okays Bovine Growth Hormone," Chemical & Engineering News, 71(14),5.

Kalter, R.J. (1985), "The New Biotech Agriculture: Unforeseen Economic Consequences," Issues in Science and Technology, (Fall), 249-266.

Lucas, Allison (1994), "Monsanto's bST Hormone Scores Success Down on the Farm," Chemical Week, 154(16) (27 April), 13.

McCalla, Alex F. and Timothy E. Josling (1985), Agricultural Policies of World Markets, New York: MacMillan.

Official Journal of the European Communities (1994), Section L 366(936)(29 December) Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities,19-20.

Phillips, Susan C. (1994), "Genetically Engineered Foods," CQ Research, 4(29)(5 August), 673-93.

Ropp, Kevin L. (1994), "New Animal Drug Increases Milk Production," FDA Consumer, 28(4),24.

Savitz, Eric J. (1992), "Milking the Cow for all she's worth," Barron's, 72(22) (1 June),20.

Tauer, Loren W.(1994), "The Value of Segmenting the Milk Market into bST-produced and non-bST-produced Milk," Agribusiness, 10(1) (January), 3-12.

The Economist (1994), "Chemicals in Food: Uncowed," 330(7856) (26 March),32.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1994), "The Use of Bovine Somatotropine (bST) in the United States; Its Potential Effects," (11 January), Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Usher, J.A. (1988), Legal Aspects of Agriculture in the European Community, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wang, Fude, Richard N. Boisvert and Harry M. Kaiser (1994), "U.S. Dairy Policy Alternatives Under Bovine Somatotropine," Applied Economics, 26(4) (April), 283-295.

----------------------------------------

Authors

J. Robert Skalnik, National University
Patricia C. Skalnik, Azusa Pacific University
David E. Smith, Copenhagen Business School



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995



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