Lately, the grocery store’s milk aisle has been nearly as polarizing as the primaries, with arguments over raw milk vs. pasteurized, organic vs. non-organic, and especially whether they should be hormone free. But a court ruling last week declared the debate at least somewhat resolved: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the state of Ohio’s ban on labels that identify milk as rBST- or rBGH-free (or free of artificial bovine growth hormones), after finding a considerable difference in the quality of hormone-free and rBST milk.
The artificial bovine growth hormones rBGH and rBST have been used for years to increase milk production in cows, but their effect on milk quality and cow health is questionable, to say the least — the hormones have been banned from milk for human consumption by all 27 countries in the European Union. Grist.org outlined the main reasons the court listed as proof that rBGH-free milk is better than milk produced with artificial hormones:
- rBGH/rBST milk contains increased levels of the cancer-causing hormone IGF-1
- rBGH/rBST milk has lower nutritional quality when produced at certain points in the cow’s lactation cycle
- rBGH/rBST milk contains increased somatic cell counts (i.e. pus)
Why does rBST milk contain more pus than hormone-free pus? Studies have shown that cows treated with artificial growth hormones experience a higher rate of mastitis, inflammation and infection of the breast tissue that can result in milk containing pus. The court ruling stated that higher somatic cell counts causes milk to sour faster and is a sign of lower quality milk.
Long story short, Ohio gets to keep the “hormone-free” label on its milk cartons to let consumers choose between high and low-quality milk, and for good reason. We know which milk we’ll be choosing from now on, but we want to know: Do you care what happens to the cows your milk comes from? Will you pay more for hormone-free milk? Tell us in the comments section below.