Growth Without Hormones
James Dudlicek
(847) 405-4009
I’ve been immersed in the feel-good aspects of dairy for the past month or so — first a trip to Maine for this month’s cover story, then editing our organic report in this issue after returning from a visit to our Processor of the Year (to be revealed next month).
Consumers are demanding organic milk faster than the nation’s limited number of certified organic dairy cows can produce. To try and capture a piece of their business, some processors are meeting them halfway by turning away milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones.
Oakhurst Dairy (page 18) has steered clear of artificial hormones from day one. It was a key point of differentiation over its much larger competitors in New England until this year, when HP Hood and Dean’s Garelick Farms announced they’d stop accepting milk from treated cows. Earlier this summer, Dean’s Tuscan Farms plant in New Jersey stopped accepting milk from treated cows, matching the longtime policy of metro New York competitor Farmland Dairies.
Dean folks have reportedly said this is not intended as national policy but as a response to consumer demand, noting that some Dean-owned dairies in California have already gone rBST-free.
True, this segment still represents a small percentage of the overall market for milk; IDFA reports only 30 percent of consumers are aware of hormone issues in milk, and 70 percent of those aware don’t care. But with the nation’s largest processor moving in this direction, what does this mean for Monsanto, the sole manufacturer of Posilac?
The agriscience company has released “Dairying Equals Choices,” a sort of playbook for how dairy farmers should handle processor demands for milk from untreated cows. For example, many processors pay premiums to producers for rBST-free milk, and Monsanto’s pamphlet calculates how much that premium should be based on assumed lost production from not using Posilac.
It also urges farmers to bring examples of “misleading labeling” to their attention, something that formed the basis of Monsanto’s lawsuit against Oakhurst over the processor’s rBST-free declaration. The subsequent settlement led to the “FDA says there’s no difference” statement seen on rBST-free milk labels today.
The arguments will continue over whether or not the use of artificial hormones is good or bad for animals and humans. I expect the debate will rage regardless of science’s future conclusions.
Many people just don’t like their food messed with, and data indicates those folks are growing in number. A processor would be a fool not to keep a close eye on this trend.  
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