Recently we received a letter from Agri-Mark stating that it will be unable to market milk after December 31, 2015 without a signature from each farm committing to producing “rbST-free milk.” Of course all milk contains small amounts of naturally-occurring bST and there’s no difference between cows treated with rbST or not. But that scientific fact is beside the point since this decision ultimately comes down to consumer perception.

The letter stated that the reason for the change in policy was a reaction to increased customer requests for “rbST-free products.” Or, more correctly, there have presumably been more demands for milk and dairy products from herds that do not use rbST. In particular, Agri-Mark has been losing sales due to its inability to provide whey products for use in baby formula that don’t come from milk produced by rbST-treated cows.

Voluminous research proves the safety and efficacy of rbST. It was the first recombinant protein approved for use in production animals and has been the subject of extensive research and scientific scrutiny. Researchers in academia, government, and industry have conducted more than 2,000 scientific studies of bST throughout the world. These studies have clearly shown the effi cacy, safety, and benefits of integrating it into dairy production systems. Bovine somatotropin does not adversely affect the health of treated cows. Supplemental administration of rbST does not affect the quantity of bST found in milk or the composition of the milk. The bottom line is that milk derived from rbST-treated cows is safe for human consumption.

A recent literature review focused on the research that has been published in the 20 years since rbST was approved by FDA (Bauman and Collier, 2014. pp 26-36 in Proceedings of the Cornell Nutrition Conference). This exhaustive review confi rmed the efficacy and safety of rbST for both cows and humans. There remains no evidence of adverse effects on cow health or milk nutritional value and safety.

Even though our herd’s productive effi ciency may be less next year as a result of not using rbST, our farm’s carbon footprint unfortunately will likely be larger. Use of rbST benefi ts the environment by reducing the amount of feed required to produce a pound of milk. Increases in productive effi ciency reduce the production of animal wastes including methane and decrease the carbon footprint of milk production.

There is no basis in science for what has happened, or apparently continues to happen, in the dairy marketplace regarding the trend toward decreeing that rbST not be used in milk production. Although the scientifi c community has accepted the biotechnological advances made in the past 15 years, public misunderstanding about the safety and benefits of rbST continues. It is crucial that researchers make an effort to inform consumers about the benefits and safety of rbST and other technologies. The recent decision by Agri-Mark simply highlights the need for further education and engagement with the public.

At Miner Institute we will continue to research the best management practices for dairy cattle and crop production – and we will increasingly reach out to the community to build their confi dence in the safety and wholesomeness of our food production systems.