Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks…

As a kid growing up in Wisconsin (America’s Dairyland) drinking milk was a sporting event. Indeed, while attending summer camp each year we would have milk guzzling contests, most milk consumed in one meal contests, etc.. As a college student I learned to like love coffee. It was a matter of pure expediency; running many miles per week training for marathons, plus working, plus attending classes resulted in the need for caffeine – never looked back.

Fast forward in time a bit and here we are with the nation’s number one retailer of fancy coffee (Starbucks) rather ceremoniously bending over for the likes of Food and Water Watch by increasing the percentage of milk products they use that are bgh-free. Food and Water Watch state rather plainly on their website that:

At many of these factory farms, in an attempt to increase the profitability, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is used to make the cow produce more milk. This hormone, manufactured by Monsanto, causes health problems in cows and increases antibiotic use on dairies. While the effect on humans consuming rBGH milk is not clear, studies suggest that rBGH increases another chemical that is linked to increased cancer risk.

The only problem is that Food and Water Watch have zero proof that the above statment holds any, well, water… They have a bgh “fact sheet” that if you read it very carefully, and follow the links to supposed sources for their scare tactics, simply proves nothing – and in serveral instances the concerns were discovered to be false. There is simply no science to support any of the claims being made about any adverse effects from hormones in our milk (which are there naturally anyway, see below). There is, however, a marketing angle.

Milk is a rather homogenous product (there I go again), and other than the gradations of milk fat it has not been a product for which you can easily create any meaninful product differentiation which, if you could, would thereby change the market dynamics by artificially increasing demand for the “safe” differentiated milk (and consequently charging substantially more for it).

The fact of the matter is that bovine growth hormone milk is indistinguishable from non-bgh milk. The cows don’t know the difference, neither does your body or mine because there is no difference. The hormone is a genetically engineered duplicate of what is produced in a cow in the first place. Moreover, the hormone is a protien hormone, not a steriodal type hormone and it is simply impossible to remove all hormones from milk, milk has hormones in it naturally. The FDA is on record stating, “all milk contains naturally occurring hormones and milk cannot be processed in a manner that renders it free of hormones…. producers have no basis for claiming that milk from cows not treated with rbST is safer than milk from rbST-treated cows.”

It should come as no surprise that the organic food industry would want to push this differentiation marketing ploy by setting up a “safe” type of milk. But Starbucks? How much you want to bet that Starbucks sees a golden opportunity here to appear “eco-friendly” while ripping you off even further for that outrageously expensive (and soon to be even more outrageously expensive) cup of joe… There is, however, a darker side to all of this and a touch of hypocrisy. If large corporations such as Starbucks, bend over to questionable, non-scientific, claims from organizations such as Food and Water Watch there could be the impression left in the general public that our milk is unsafe. That would be a tragedy as milk is probably one of the most (if not the most) regulated, tested, and inspected food items on the planet.

Take if from a Wisconsin kid whose been drinking the stuff for many a moon – milk is safe to guzzle, and good for your bones. In fact, I think I’ll go have glass of milk from a cow that was amped up on bgh right now (with a chocolate chip cookie, of course).

Links to articles of fact:

1. FDA – Initial research letter, 1989
2. FDA/Cornell University – Cornell University – bST Fact Sheet
3. FDA – Response to Cohen Petition

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