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Bovine Growth Hormone: Enhancing More Than Just Milk

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    Imagine sitting down to have a nice cold glass of milk, it is safe to assume we have all done this hundreds of times in our lives, but most have never stopped to think what could be in that glass of milk. Unlike soda-pop, juice and most other beverages, aside from water, one typically does not think of checking a label to see what ingredients they are about to consume when picking up a seemingly normal glass of milk. Unfortunately, because there is no rule saying we must put the chemicals on the label we go ahead and drink it. No warning of the torturous treatment to the dairy cows, as well as no warnings about the potential hazards and side effects to us as humans.

    According to The Food Safety Handbook, bovine somatropin is, “A naturally occurring hormone in milk-producing cows that is given to cows to increase milk production. Also called bovine growth hormone (BGH, rBGH)” (Roberts, 300). In humans, somatropin is essential for bone and muscle development, not to be confused with bST. It can be given to help a person with hormone deficiencies or stunted growth. In cattle, the natural hormone RBst, is essential for their metabolism. The role of metabolism plays an important part in how much milk they are able to produce. The natural process a female cow will go through to produce milk is quite similar to a female human. For the female cow to start lactating she will first need to give birth to a baby cow, also known as a calf. On a dairy farm, farmers prefer the cow to become pregnant around 16 months old. The farmer has ways to insure this time frame one of the ways is by giving the cow a hormone injection to kick start the process.

    Depending on the situation a farmer may chose to let the cows reproduce naturally, or they may choose to artificially inseminate them. Once the cow gives birth to her calf, she will then start her milk production. Like any other living creature the calf will have a natural instinct to nurse from the mother. The mother and baby will be separated within a few weeks, so she can start producing milk for human consumption. Leaving the calf to find food from other sources on the farm. A cow’s diet can be a good predictor for the outcome of how much milk they will produce naturally. According to, “An entirely grass-based diet can be sufficient for the cow to thrive whilst producing 4,000 liters of milk per year. Dairy cows can now produce higher yields of milk which require significant energy.

    A diet of grass alone will not provide enough energy to produce high milk yields and keep the cow in good health. Concentrates, which are used to supplement grass, contain energy and protein-dense foods such as grains and oilseed meals. Grass and concentrates may only provide enough energy for 5,000 liters of milk production/year, but a medium-high yielding cow will produce between 8,000 liters and 14,000 liters (more likely 11,000) a year. Total mixed ration (TMR) is a diet that includes hay, fermented grass (silage), maize silage and high energy grains like brewers grains, soy bean, cotton seed and citrus pulp. TMR ensures that cows get a complete diet which is necessary to enable them to produce high quantities of milk without weight loss. Cows producing very high yields (e.g. over 12,500 liters per year) can be very hungry and they will choose TMR over grass.” (Compassion in World Farming).

    In the 1940’s, scientists in the U.K began conducting experiments to try and figure out a solution to the food shortages that occurred during World War II. It was then that they figured out that by modifying somatotropin the cows would produce more milk. Unfortunately, because of the war they were unable to do much with the discovery they had made until 1970’s. As consumers humans always want more. The traditional way of getting milk from a cow was to milk them by hand, but that was not fast nor efficient enough. Around the 20th century milk machines came into play and were a game changer for dairy farmers. They cut their work load and were able to make a larger profit. The American the Food and Drug Administration got behind the growth hormones in 1993 and approved rbST for commercial use by 1994.

    This created much profit for dairy farmers, since then over 35 million cows have received the supplement. When injected the supplement, bovine somatotropin, works by extending the amount of milk produced during the lactation period. If it is administered before the cow hits the prime of the lactation cycle it will extend the amount of time a cow is able to produce milk as well as maximize the amount the cow can produce. This sounds good in theory, more milk more profit no worries. But more recently it has been suggested and studied that bovine somatotropin might not be as safe as we had hoped it would be.

    Around the world many countries have started taking initiative and are banning the use of bovine somatotropin on all dairy cows. Although America has not gotten on board banning the use of bovine somatotropin on our cows, many large companies and corporations have taken initiative and pulled away from selling products that have used genetically modified cow’s milk. Danger and pain to the animal is also a big factor when given the hormone. One might argue that this is their sole purpose of life, they were bread to produce milk so that is what they will do no matter what the cost. This inhumane way of thinking leads to health hazards on the cow which in turn could possible lead to contamination into the milk they produce. Speaking from human experience mastitis can cause extreme agony and is common to get while nursing a baby.

    It is an inflammation of breast tissue that can turn into an infection. My experience was incredibly painful, I could not imagine making any living creature endure the pain I went through. Along with the pain the infection can lead to discharge from the nipple, witch in turn could cross contaminate the milk we drink. During my time researching these hormones given to the cows my son was diagnosed with a milk allergy. At times we figured he had a stomach bug, but the stomach bug kept returning at times that were all very similar and had a major thing in common, an abundance of milk. Upon writing this paper I can’t help but feel relief. Relief that even though we will need to make new accommodations for him we will never have to worry about bovine somatropin being in the milk he drinks.

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    Bovine Growth Hormone: Enhancing More Than Just Milk. (2022, Mar 12). Retrieved from

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