Can Cow Hormones Help the Environment?

  • One environmentalist is arguing that hormones in cows may actually be better for the environment (Photo by Kinna Ohman)

The cow hormone known as rBST or rBGH
has taken a beating in the environmental community.
Injecting the hormone into cows makes them produce
more milk. But some people are afraid the hormone
can find its way from the cow, to the cow’s milk,
and into our bodies. The government insists that’s
not the case. Shawn Allee says one researcher
wants to change the debate about rBST – and convince
environmentalists to support the hormone:

Transcript

The cow hormone known as rBST or rBGH
has taken a beating in the environmental community.
Injecting the hormone into cows makes them produce
more milk. But some people are afraid the hormone
can find its way from the cow, to the cow’s milk,
and into our bodies. The government insists that’s
not the case. Shawn Allee says one researcher
wants to change the debate about rBST – and convince
environmentalists to support the hormone:

Before I introduce you to the researcher who supports rbst or rbgh, I want
you to understand what she’s up against.

It’s well-meaning people like Steve Parkes.

Parkes co-owns New Leaf natural food store in Chicago. He decides what’s
on the shelves.

“A lot goes into making that decision. First and foremost, is it something
I would eat myself?”

And as for milk produced with rbgh, Parkes won’t sell it.

“People have been drinking milk for thousands of years from animals
that didn’t have have rgbh in them, so, I think I’m a little more
comfortable drinking milk from a cow that didn’t have rgbh than I am
from something that is a very, very new technology.”

A lot of people distrust rbgh, and that’s changed the milk market.
For example, some retailers like Starbucks won’t buy milk from dairies that
use it. More and more dairies are asking farmers to pledge not to use the
hormone.

The trend has frustrated researcher Judith Capper.

“People aren’t questioning the science basis of it.”

Capper is with Cornell University. She argues environmentalists and
consumers should take another look at the hormone, and see it as part of the
solution to global warming.

Capper recently co-wrote a study that began with a simple observation – in a
few decades, there will be many more Americans.

“The US population will have gone up from about 300 million people to
377 million people and we wanted to look at the environment impact of
producing enough milk to feed all those people.”

That scares Capper – because producing milk can make the global warming
problem worse.

That’s because feeding cows, and the cows themselves, lead to more
greenhouse gas emissions.

“Okay, there are six major inputs and outputs in terms of carbon.”

I won’t go through six, but here are a few.

First, there’s the feed that cows eat. Tractors have to plant grain. That burns
fossil fuels. Greenhouse gasses. Then feed is trucked to the dairy farm.
More greenhouse gasses. More cows, more greenhouse gasses.

So, you want as much milk as possible from each cow.

“If you give rbst to a cow, it will produce an extra ten pounds per day,
that’s quite an increase.”

And then there’s the other greenhouse gasses. From, um, the ugly end of the
cow equation.

The manure puts off other potent greenhouse gasses. And Cows belch
methane. Cows that use rbst poop and belch, spare the atmosphere even
more carbon.

All this leads Capper to a startling conclusion.

She says if farmers gave a million cows the hormone –

“Using rbst would be like taking about 400,000 cars off the road, or
planting three hundred million trees. Those are really big numbers.”

Judith Capper says she expects scientists will challenge her research – and
she welcomes a good debate about rbgh and rbst.

She says that’s better than this vague idea that the hormone might somehow
be bad without understanding the whole story.

“Choose organic, choose rbst-free, whatever, but base it on facts and
science, not on consumer perceptions that may not be factually correct.”

But, Capper’s got her work cut out for her.

Government statistics show consumer fear about rbgh has made farmers cut
the percentage of cows injected with the hormone.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Starbucks Drops Organic Milk

  • Starbucks has switched to rBGH-free milk. (Photo by Mark Brush)

You won’t be able to get organic milk in your latte at Starbucks anymore. Mark Brush
reports the company says they’re trying to meet consumer demands:

Transcript

You won’t be able to get organic milk in your latte at Starbucks anymore. Mark Brush
reports the company says they’re trying to meet consumer demands:


(Sound of Starbucks store)


Starbucks says only about one percent of its customers bought organic milk. The coffee
retailer says the main reason they asked for organic was because of a concern about
recombinant bovine growth hormone. rBGH is an artificial hormone injected into dairy
cows to make them produce more milk.


The company said they decided to address that concern alone rather than carry organic
milk. Organic milk is also made without artificial hormones, as well as without
antibiotics. And the cows are given access to pasture lands. Starbucks says that’s more
than most customers asked for.


The company is now using rBGH free milk and is phasing out its organic milk.


For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links