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July 2009 Issue

Hormone Use in Cows Raises Eyebrows, But Concerns Are Complex

Recombinant BST (rBST) or recombinant BGH (rBGH) is a bioengineered version of natural BST. The FDA approved it in 1993 for use in dairy cows to boost milk production by about 10%. Many of the industrialized nations around the globe including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all of the nations in the European Union do not allow the use of rBGH because of human and animal health concerns. The Codex Alimentarius, the UNís main food safety body, concluded there is no consensus that rBGH is safe for human consumption. The U.S. FDA considers milk from cows that are given rBST to be safe to drink. A National Institutes of Health panel also reviewed the data and pronounced the use of rBST safe, because rBST is a "species-specific hormone" that has no activity in humans. Moreover, unlike steroid hormones (like estrogens), which are active when taken by mouth, protein hormones (like insulin and rBST) are broken down in the stomach into their component amino acids, just like any other protein.

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