OPINION: Growth Hormones In Milk Are Declining — But Many Problems Remain

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Did you see that Amazon is now stamping its brand on milk — and that to drum up sales, it’s being marketed as coming from cows who aren’t injected with the growth hormone rBST?

News flash: The pitch is a misleading non-starter.

Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), the synthetic version of a naturally produced hormone, was developed some four decades ago to squeeze more milk out of cows, but only a fraction of farmers have used it since it was approved in 1993 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the number continues to fall.

Today, it’s rarely used, even in the country’s top milk-producing states. Wisconsin estimated that nearly 90 percent of its milk would be rBST-free by the end of last year.

Canada banned it in 1999 after a review found that it increased the risk of infertility, lameness, and mastitis — painful inflammation of the mammary glands and one of the reasons often cited for sending cows to slaughter.

It’s telling that in the U.S., the bottom line took precedence over cows’ well-being: Farmers cited the cost of rBST and wanted a piece of the action when manufacturers started charging consumers more for milk that didn’t contain it. That calculated indifference illustrates how the dairy industry operates. Cows are seen as commodities to be used and discarded.

rBST is a not an issue. The issue is that the abuse of cows must be abolished.

Cows are as diverse as cats, dogs, and humans. Some are bright, adventurous or considerate, while others are lackadaisical, timid or bossy. They have exceptional memories, can recognize many faces, form long-term friendships and hold grudges against other cows who treat them badly. Highly intelligent, they enjoy the challenge of solving a problem and get excited when they find a solution.

Cows are also loving, attentive parents. Given the opportunity, mothers may nurse their calves as long as three years and, like humans, will go to great lengths to protect their young. They’ve been filmed desperately chasing after a trailer that was hauling their babies away.

But that’s of no concern to the dairy industry.

Cows are artificially inseminated just after their first birthday. After giving birth, they lactate for 10 months and are inseminated again, and this occurs annually. Calves are just a day old when they’re taken away from their mothers — the females are slaughtered or kept alive to produce milk, and the males are often raised for veal. And although cows have a natural lifespan of about 20 years and can produce milk for eight or nine, the stress that they’re forced to endure leads to disease, lameness and reproductive problems that render them worthless to the industry when they’re around five years old.

Finally, they’re loaded into crowded trucks and hauled to the slaughterhouse, where they’re shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun and hoisted up by a rear leg, leaving them hanging upside down by a chain, and their throats are slit. If the bolt gun doesn’t stun them, which is often the case, they’re conscious and able to feel pain throughout the entire process.

On any given day, there are more than nine million cows on U.S. dairy farms, about 12 million fewer than there were in 1950. But even though the overwhelming majority aren’t shot up with rBST, milk production has continued to increase, from 116 billion pounds a year in 1950 to 217 billion two years ago.

Normally, these animals would produce only enough milk to nourish their young, but genetic manipulation and, in some cases, antibiotics are used to engineer cows who can produce more than 22,000 pounds of milk a year. One cow in the Midwest produced nearly 77,500 pounds in 2017.

Even if it hasn’t been laced with rBST, all that milk may be putting people at risk of serious health problems.

The estrogens that are found naturally in milk have been implicated in the development of hormone-dependent cancers — those affecting the prostate, testes, ovaries, breasts and uterus. Cow’s milk may play a role in triggering type 1 diabetes. Most of the world’s population, including millions of Americans, suffers from lactose intolerance, which can cause bloating, gas, cramps, vomiting, headaches, rashes and asthma.

Is it any wonder that sales of almond, cashew, soy and other plant-based milks surged 61 percent in the U.S. from 2014 to 2018 and are expected to surpass $34 billion globally within five years? Conscientious consumers know that drinking cow’s milk is bad news.

That’s good news for cows.

Craig Shapiro is a staff writer for the nonprofit PETA Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.