Are antibiotics and hormones used in dairy cows contributing to the obesity epidemic, early puberty and antibiotic resistance? Before going down that road, we have to first we have to first ask if there are any antibiotics or hormones in milk and dairy products.
In this blog post I will cover:
- Why are antibiotics given to cows?
- Antibiotics are not in milk, here’s why.
- Why are growth hormones given to cows? Are there any hormones in my milk and dairy food?
- What are the cows Eating?
Why are Antibiotics given to Cows?
Antibiotics are used on farms to treat animals who are sick just like you would give an antibiotic to your child if he or she gets sick or take one yourself. There is no reason for dairy farmers to give antibiotics to cows who are not sick. Doing so costs additional money, serves no clear purpose and arbitrarily giving animals antibiotics could contribute to antibiotic resistance. Now imagine you are a farmer and your life depends on the health of your cows – would you want to run the risk of antibiotic resistance and your cows getting sick with fewer treatment options?
Some antibiotics are also used for animal growth. The FDA is phasing out this practice so medically important antimicrobial drugs (antibiotics) will no longer be allowed to enhance growth or feed efficiency. In the future antibiotics will only be allowed to treat, control or prevent disease and of course require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. Regardless of whether or not the antibiotic is used for growth or treatment of disease, no traces of antibiotic residues are allowed in milk or dairy products.
Antibiotics are Not in Milk, Here’s Why.
Any cow that gets an antibiotic is milked separately from the rest of the herd and the milk is thrown out. That milk will never be sold or consumed. All antibiotics have a different period of time before all traces of the medication leaves the body (whether we are talking about a cow or a human). Once this period is up and the cow is completely healthy again, the farmer tests her milk. Milk cannot be sold until it is completely clear of all drug residues. Whether organic or conventional, all milk is tested several times before making it to market. It is tested on the farm and at the milk processing plant. Any milk that tests positive for any medication residue, including antibiotics, is thrown out (1).
According to national Milk Drug Residue Data Base compiled for the years 2013 to 2014, 0% of milk tested positive for drug residues. In 2015, the FDA’s Center of Veterinary Medicine surveyed 1,918 raw milk samples (before pasteurization) from across the country. Samples were tested for residues of 31 drugs including the antibiotics, NSAIDs (ibuprofen etc.) and an antihistamine. They found 99% of sampled milk was free of any drug residues. Keep in mind the 1% of milk with residues must be thrown out – it cannot be sold (1, 2).
Cheese and yogurt are made from milk and therefore, there are no antibiotics in your cheese or yogurt either.
If you want to learn more about what farmers are doing about antibiotic resistance, Minnesota Farmer Wanda Patsche wrote an excellent blog on this topic.
Growth Hormones in Dairy Cows
Growth hormones are approved for use in dairy cows to improve milk production. Greater milk production means fewer environmental resources used to raise cows for milk. Bovine somatotropin (bST; also called bovine growth hormone or rBGH) is perhaps the most well recognized growth hormone used on dairy farms. bST is “a protein hormone produced in the pituitary gland of animals, including humans, and is essential for normal growth, development, and health maintenance.” Very little bST is used in dairy cows and there is no test that can distinguish between cows treated with bST and naturally occurring bST (3). Humans do not have receptors for bST and therefore it is passed through your body intact without being absorbed (4). As a result, there are no known side effects or health issues associated with consuming dairy from cows treated with bST. IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1) concentrations are slightly higher in cows treated with bST. However, the human body synthesizes IGF-I and drinking 1.5 L of milk is equivalent to an estimated 0.09% of the IGF-I produced by adults each day (5, 6, 7, 8).
USDA organic dairy products are “produced without antibiotics fed or administered to the animal at any point in its life” (9). There are no meaningful nutrition differences between organic and conventional dairy products. I covered that topic in this post.
What are the Cows Eating?
Cows’ diets also vary depending on many of the same factors that influence your food choices. However, unlike humans, all cows have the benefit of seeing a nutrition expert (like dietitians, animal nutrition experts are specialists). Many consumers also have questions about how cows are fed. Cows are fed nutritious diet to ensure health of cow and nutrition of milk. Typical feed mixtures may include haylage (grass with a higher water content), corn silage, sugar beet pulp and a protein mineral mix.
Rest assured, your dairy products are safe. In fact, the dairy product that says it is made with cows not treated with antibiotics is the exact same as the one from a cow that may have been treated with antibiotics. Both contain no antibiotic residues. Growth hormones used in dairy also pose no known threat to human health. The human body does not even recognize the main hormone used in cows. So, regardless of what milk, yogurt, or cheese you choose, all have been produced and extensively tested to ensure they are safe for human consumption.
This post was written as part of my ongoing sponsored partnership with U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. All opinions expressed are my own and per the usual, took me hours to research and double check my facts.References (if not cited via a hyperlink in the text of this post)
1 Questions and Answers: 2012 Milk Drug Residue Sampling Survey. FDA.
2 NATIONAL MILK DRUG RESIDUE DATA BASE FISCAL YEAR 2014 ANNUAL REPORT October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014 http://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/milk/ucm434757.pdf
3 Bovine Somatotropin (BST) http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm055435.htm
4 Bovine Somatotropin. National Institutes of Health, Technology Assessment Conference Statement. December 5-7, 1990. https://consensus.nih.gov/1990/1990BovineSomatotropinta007html.htm
5 Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). 1998. Toxicological evaluation of certain veterinary drug residues in food; Summary and conclusions. 50th report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
6 Collier RJ, Bauman DE. Update on human health concerns of recombinant bovine somatotropin use in dairy cows. J Animal Sci 2013; 92(4): 1800 – 1807. https://www.animalsciencepublications.org/publications/jas/articles/92/4/1800
7 Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/recombinant-bovine-growth-hormone
8 Report on the Food and Drug Administration’s Review of the Safety of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/productsafetyinformation/ucm130321.htm
9 Stacy Sneeringer, James MacDonald, Nigel Key, William McBride, and Ken Mathews. Economics of Antibiotic Use in U.S. Livestock Production, ERR-200, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, November 2015. http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1950577/err200.pdf