So it’s true: There is more pus in milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH, also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST). At least it’s true according to a recent Ohio court ruling. As reported in Grist, the Ohio court ruled rBGH-free milk is better than milk produced with artificial hormones, partly because it contains a lower somatic cell count, i.e., less pus. The pus occurs as a result of the growth hormones cows receive, which increase their chances for mastitis (infection of the udder). The more pus the cow creates, the more pus and bacteria end up in the milk.
The ruling opposes the current opinion of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has stated that rBGH-free dairy products are not distinguishable from their genetically modified counterparts. Since issuing this statement, several states have outlawed rBGH-free labels on milk products. In Ohio, however, there is now a legal “compositional difference”: The court found that milk from cows treated with rBGH has increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, elevated levels of which have been shown to cause early onset of puberty in addition to breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. The court also found that cows receiving rBGH experienced a period during which they produce milk with lower nutritional quality, and that conventional milk has increased somatic cell counts, the measure used to determine how much pus in present in a cow’s milk. The court’s decision went so far as to add that the extra pus, besides its inherent gross-out factor, can make the milk sour faster. As the old story goes, if you give a mouse a cookie, you have to give him a glass of sour pus, er, milk.
On the heels of a long, national campaign by Monsanto to prevent labels from identifying products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), this ruling comes as a light in the stygian legal battle being waged between corporate food processors and concerned consumers. Champions of the appeal are hopeful the labeling controversy will eventually be reversed at the federal level, transferring the identification burden from the rBGH-free to the products produced with these synthetic hormones. As the Grist article reports, “Indeed, there would be no small irony in Monsanto’s campaign to expand the production of rBST-produced milk leading to mandatory labeling for it, much less establishing legal precedent to support labeling of genetically modified foods — the cornerstone of Monsanto’s business — which some advocates say this ruling provides.” About time, seeing as the United States stands alone in the line of developed countries as one that feeds its citizens milk from animals treated with artificial hormones.
By challenging the FDA’s decision that there is no “compositional difference” between natural products and their genetically modified equivalents, there is the potential for a domino effect of change in the marketing, labeling and selling of all products that contain GMOs. In light of the recent GMO-salmon debacle, this Ohio court ruling could have far-reaching effects if it leads to a reversal on the FDA’s stance regarding genetically modified labeling. Such a move would require the FDA to stand up to the lobbying force of GMO-producing titans, like Monsanto, to mandate the labeling of products containing modified ingredients. It’s not hard to see why putting phrases such as, “Now, With More Pus!,” on the front of the milk carton might be a marketing hazard.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.