So besides the massive amount of snow, I've been delving into the realm of organic/raw food recently. A while back, we tried some organic milk - we balked at the price but figured it would be worth the change. Unfortunately, it spoiled pretty quickly, for no good reason from what I could tell (fridge settings were fine, etc), and that was our first (and last) dive into the world of organic milk. I never really looked into it, though, or made any real attempt to actually learn about organic milk and how it differs from regular milk past the obvious few things (the cows are likely grass-fed, no chemicals are used on their feed or on the cows).
So a quick Google search led me here, and let me tell you, for being the first site that pops up when you search, and I quote, "differences between regular milk and organic milk", this pretty much sucks. Yes, I said it. The general consensus of this site is that there are probably fewer chemicals and hormones used on the cows that produce milk that ends up labeled "organic" but in the long run, since both types of milk have to conform to government standards anyway, they're basically the same thing. Well, hell, if I wanted someone to tell me they were the same and neither was better than the other, for upwards of an extra two dollars a gallon, you can bet I'm going to be buying regular milk. Obviously my question has not been answered, so time to go a little farther.
My next hit: the National Dairy Council's PDF "Organic Milk FAQ". Sounds promising enough, except that the first phrase is, "In terms of quality, safety and nutrition, there’s no difference between organic and
regular milk. Both contain the same combination of nutrients that make dairy foods
an important part of a healthy diet." ... You have to be kidding me. So, even according to the National Dairy Council, there's no difference between the two types of milk, except that organic milk happens to be much more expensive? It does note later on that, "The definition of organic milk refers to farm management practices, not to the milk itself." Which makes sense, I guess, except the differences in question are as follows: "Organic dairy foods must additionally meet the requirements of USDA's National Organic Program. This includes using only organic fertilizers and pesticides, and not using rbST." Meaning that farmers whose milk is certified as organic aren't using dangerous chemicals on the cows or their feed, and aren't supplementing cows with artificial hormones to keep up their milk supply.
I think I'm finally getting somewhere.
Now, let me put a little disclaimer here: I'm no medical professional or scientist. My mother works in a hospital in their pharmacy and is a registered LPN in our state, and while I've been an appendage to the medical community my entire life and probably know a tad more than the average person, I'm certainly no expert. I don't know much about artificial hormones or the exact problems and side effects traced to certain chemicals. All I have going for me is my common sense and my Ghd (Google doctorate, haha), but the latter provides me and a host of other people with the ability to find out the exact repercussions of using too many chemicals, or prolonged exposure to, say, rbST. So let's learn a bit more about rbST in particular.
A search for "rbST hormone" takes me first and foremost to Wikipedia. I realize that a researcher has to be careful referencing Wikipedia; I remember all too well that because it can be publicly edited by anyone that educational institutions don't allow it to be referenced in official papers. At the same time, though, I believe that this public editing option makes Wikipedia USUALLY very reliable and up-to-date, something a good portion of other sites can't claim to be, since Wikipedia can be updated immediately with the most recent information, oftentimes within seconds or minutes of a new release of information or event.
That being said, the Wikipedia page on rbST is pretty straightforward. Monsanto first synthesized it using recombinant DNA technology, named it "Posilac", and that got sold off to yet another pharmaceutical company (namely, Eli Lilly and Company). Oh, and, "The United States is the only developed nation to permit humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone. Posilac was banned from use in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all European Union countries (currently numbering 27), by 2000 or earlier."
Yeah, I guess I read that correctly. Posilac was banned by 27 other countries, but for whatever reason, the United States still thinks it's okay for usage in our dairy supply. Remember, it isn't just milk - because all that milk, organic or otherwise, is used to make like-labeled dairy products. So all of the non-organic cheese, pudding, butter, cream, yogurt, instant/evaporated/condensed milk products, plus the hundreds of other dairy products I DIDN'T list, all use milk that has Posilac - rbST - in it, unless the retailer or creator has specifically chosen NOT to use milk from cows treated with rbST (and unless the product happens to mention it on the label, you have no way of knowing if rbST has been used or not). I wonder what on earth made 27 other first-world countries - you know, the entire EU and then some - decide that Posilac is dangerous?
Back to the Wikipedia page, and as a warning, I'm about to be pasting a LOT of stuff all at once (any added emphasis is mine).
"On September 30, 2010, a U.S. court of appeal found based on studies presented that there is a "compositional difference" between milk from rBSG-treated cows and untreated milk. The court found that studies have shown that rBST milk has: increased levels of the hormone IGF-1; lower nutritional quality when produced at certain points in the cow's lactation cycle; and more pus in the milk (increased somatic cell counts), which "make the milk turn sour more quickly and is another indicator of poor milk quality."
Use of BST is controversial primarily due to concerns over potential effects on animal and human health.
Two meta-analyses have been published on rBST's effects on bovine health. Findings indicated an average increase in milk output ranging from 11%-16%, a nearly 25% increase in the risk of clinical mastitis, a 40% reduction in fertility and 55% increased risk of developing clinical signs of lameness. The same study reported a decrease in body condition score for cows treated with rBST even though there was an increase in their dry matter intake.
A European Union scientific commission was asked to report on the incidence of mastitis and other disorders in dairy cows and on other aspects of the welfare of dairy cows. The commission's statement, subsequently adopted by the European Union, stated that the use of rBST substantially increased health problems with cows, including foot problems, mastitis and injection site reactions, impinged on the welfare of the animals and caused reproductive disorders. The report concluded that, on the basis of the health and welfare of the animals, rBST should not be used. Health Canada prohibited the sale of rBST in 1999; the external committees found that, although there was no significant health risk to humans, the drug presents a threat to animal health, and, for this reason, cannot be sold in Canada.
Human health concerns centre around three areas:
- rBST and its byproducts
- increased levels of IGF
- secondary effects, e.g. the increased use of antibiotics to treat mastitis
IGF is produced by the cow in response to BGH injections, and it is this hormone which increases growth and milk production. Bovine and porcine IGF-I are identical to human IGF-I, while IGF-II differs among animal species.
IGF plays a role in the formation of new tumours and increased levels of IGF-1 may be linked to increased risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. However IGF is involved in many biological processes so it is not possible to assign a clear-cut cause and effect relationship. IGF-1 is not denatured by pasteurisation, so consumption of milk from rBST treated dairy cows will increase the daily intake of IGF-I.
Further association of IGF with breast cancer was provided by a 20-year epidemiological study begun in 1976, which was published in 1997."
So let's see if I'm understanding this properly. The National Dairy Council specifically states that there is absolutely no difference between the nutritional properties of regular milk and organic milk, and that neither is any more or less safe or healthy than the other, yet the use of rbST in regular milk (not all, but without labeling, you have no idea whether or not rbST has been used on the cows that the milk came from) is CLEARLY detrimental to not only the health of the animals it's used on, but on the humans that consume the milk and milk byproducts. And let me speak from experience on the mastitis side of things: I've had mastitis. I nursed through it, hallucinated through a very high fever, and ended up on some serious antibiotics to try to get rid of it (and soy lecithin to rid the subsequent blockages associated with it). It sucked beyond anything I could describe to someone who has never experienced it before, and when someone says that they stopped or almost stopped nursing because of a bout of mastitis, while I'm saddened, I understand. Mastitis is a bitch, a very painful and unyielding bitch. And I would not wish that upon a person, much less a poor cow.
I feel like somebody's lying somewhere (and I don't think it's Wikipedia).
So, basically, cattle treated with rbST make rather nasty pus-milk that has rbST secreted into it that we end up consuming ourselves.
There's no way in hell I can be okay with continuing to feed this to my family.
On to organic milk we go.