It's banned in both Europe and Canada, as this article notes, but a number of developing world countries have been fooled into following the Americans in approving this genetically engineered cattle drug.
'Crack for cows' could be bad for you, too
by Penny Sukhraj
The Star (South Africa), 21 Sep 2005
The next time you pour some milk into your coffee, you could be taking a gulp of a cancer-causing hormone.
The hormone rBST - known as "crack for cows" - is being injected into cattle whose milk could contain lethal hormones responsible for cancerous cell growth in human tissue.
While rBST has been banned in Canada and the European Union, South African dairy farmers still use it, and about two million doses of the hormone are sold annually.
Farmers use it because it boosts milk production by about 10 to 15 percent.
Unless your milk is certified "rBST-free", it's likely that you are drinking milk with cancer-causing hormones.
Although the bovine growth hormone occurs naturally in cows, the higher level of the hormone causes an increase of the IGF-1 (insulin-like growth) hormone in the milk.
Countless studies have shown that increased levels of IGF-1 increase the risk of contracting numerous cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, colon and smooth-muscle cancers.
Environmental researcher Glenn Ashton said the studies showed that the IGF-1 hormone rose up to 360 percent in the milk of cows given rBST.
"The problem is that the hormone is instrumental in controlling cell growth, and uncontrolled cell growth shows up as cancer. IGF-1 is not killed in the pasteurisation process but it emerges intact in the milk we drink," said Ashton.
IGF-1 is more readily absorbed when consumed in the presence of casein, the main milk protein.
Milk SA chairperson Koos Pienaar said there were buyers who had agreements with farmers not to use rBST.
He admitted that because the rBST was not detectable many farmers continued using it. Pienaar said discussions on the use of the hormone was not on the organisation's agenda.
"We've had no complaints from anyone about this. We haven't discussed the hormone.
"If there is enough proof of its negative impacts, and if it gives the industry a bad image, then we will have to discuss it," he said.
Jacobus Botha, of Elanco, the company that sells the hormone locally, insisted that milk from cows treated with rBST was the same as milk from untreated cows.
"rBST continued to prove itself to be an effective management tool that helps dairy producers improve their operations, lower their cost for producing high-quality milk and achieve higher profitability. The milk is unchanged and just as nutritious."
The Star approached major dairy suppliers for comment on their use of the hormone in the milk-production process.
Only Woolworths guarantees customers that their milk and milk products are free of the hormone, by saying so on product labels.
Woolworths' products bear a circular flash "rBST hormone-free as nature intended", as well as the statement: "Woolworths assures you that our Ayrshire cows are not treated with rBST growth hormone - we prefer contented cows that produce farm-fresh milk, as nature intended."
Woolworths Ayrshire milk has been produced without the use of rBST since 2001.
Spokesperson Lucy Inman said Woolworths had made the decision based on consumer demand.
"The initial impetus came from customer requests and pressure due to a growing awareness of the use of hormones, as well as the best practice abroad where, in the European Union, any dairy product must be rBST-free," said Inman.
She added: "An independent audit of all Woolworths Ayrshire farmers is conducted on a regular but random basis to ensure compliance with the strict animal welfare standards to ensure the herd is rBST-free."
Amanda Reiss, the consumer services manager for Nestle South Africa, said Nestle's farmers did not make use of the hormone rBST or BST to boost milk production,
But Nestlé could not guarantee this on its labels.
"Nestle South Africa has no such (labelling) policy," Reiss said.
Similarly, Clover South Africa, which produces about a third of the country's milk products, with about 600 suppliers nationwide, said it "discourages the use of rBST" in the manufacture of Clover milk and milk products.
"We have informed our suppliers accordingly. The use of rBST is legal in South Africa.
"We recognise the scientific merits of the hormone. In light of this, Clover does not do inspections on farms to control the use of rBST, but relies on the co-operation and honesty of its suppliers," said Clover group quality manager Gerhard van Blerk.
He said the company could not label its products rBST-free because it was not economical to test products on a regular basis.
"We are also aware of the claims of increased levels of the IGF-1 hormone in treated animals, and the side-effects of this on humans, but are not in a position to comment on it as there is not yet agreement among scientists on this matter," said Van Blerk, assuring that Clover products were safe.
Parmalat said its policy and contractual obligation between it and its suppliers prohibited the purchasing and use of rBST due to consumer concerns.
Andrew Taynton, of the Safe Food Coalition, said he found it contradictory of companies like Clover to recognise the "scientific merits" of rBST but discourage its use.
"What do they know that we don't? Opponents of rBST are asking for more objective science to prove the product is safe," he said.
"We are in possession of evidence that there were not proper scientific studies done and that the US government colluded in getting a dangerous product approved."
Taynton also questioned the necessity of having rBST available to farmers if the dairy companies "discouraged" its use.
"If testing and labelling rBST milk will cost the consumer more and it's potentially dangerous, then it should be banned. No one wants it," said Taynton, noting that in the US, which has the highest use of rBST in the world (up to 30 percent of dairy herds), the demand for organic milk was outstripping supply.
"Cancer can take 20 to 30 years to develop. We have been using rBST for less than 10 years. Is it not irresponsible to perform a 20- to 30-year experiment on the general population?" Taynton said.
Ina Jordaan, managing director of the Dairy Standard Agency, a watchdog for the industry, said: "If there is a demand from consumers to not use this in milk production, then we'll investigate.
"Unfortunately there are no test methods to detect the hormone in milk."
In the meantime, Agricultural Research Council spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi said questions remained over IGF-1, which is increased in milk when rBST is administered.
"In large concentrations, IGF-1 may produce cancer-forming lesions in the gut," said Masibi.
The Medicines Control Council, which regulates all veterinary medicines, was approached for comment but did not respond. The Dairy Standard Agency says it welcomes complaints - on 012-8040-818.