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Production-Related Contaminants in Retail Milk

Nov 16, 2015
Photo Credit: USDA

Photo Credit: USDA

This research is dedicated to an urgent issue in human health and organic farming may likely provide the solution.  Milk consumption in the United States is decreasing, a trend that is particularly worrisome in children whose diets are lacking in calcium and vitamin D. One factor thought to be driving this downward trend is consumer concern regarding the use of production enhancing hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics in the dairy industry. Scientists have hypothesized that exposure to recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a synthetic hormone, may play a role in causing early onset puberty in girls. Common pesticides have also been implicated as endocrine disruptors, and low-level antibiotic application can lead to development of resistance yet little research exists about what substances consumers are exposed to when they consume milk. This research will quantify the chemicals that consumers of conventional dairy milk are exposed to as well as the extent to which consumers can avoid these exposures by choosing organic.

CowBovine (cow) milk is an important source of calcium and other nutrients lacking in the diets of many children. It is also the only beverage, other than water, recommended in U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Milk consumption, however, has been decreasing in the U.S. and recent research suggests that increased concern about industry use of production-enhancing hormones and other chemicals, including pesticides and antibiotics, may be contributing to this trend. The use of these chemicals to produce foods commonly consumed by children is of particular concern.  Many pesticides are known endocrine disrupters and over-use of antibiotics to enhance growth have led to the dangerous development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  The use of synthetic hormones such as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) or growth hormone (rbGH), which are given to many dairy herds to promote milk production, may also lead to negative health outcomes in milk consumers. The scientific and medical communities have raised concerns that consumption of milk from cows treated with synthetic hormones may be involved in nationwide shift towards an earlier onset of puberty in girls.

Milk1While federal regulations do require testing of milk for some pesticides and antibiotics, the General Accounting Office (GAO) recently called for FDA and USDA to strengthen their testing programs due to quality concerns. Furthermore, there are no known requirements for testing for the presence of synthetic hormones used in milk production.

The Organic Center is collaborating with Dr. Jean Welsh of Emory University to conduct this first-of-its-kind study to determine the extent to which the residues of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics used in bovine milk production can be detected in retail milk.  Additionally we will determine if level of synthetic residues differ between organic and conventional milk.

These results will provide much needed information about the risk of exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones through consumption of conventional milk as well as the extent to which these exposures can be avoided by choosing organic dairy.

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