US milk cannot be labelled hormone free, says FDA

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 19 February 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:495
  1. J Roberts

    American milk cannot be labelled “natural” and free of hormones ruled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week. The administration argued that no one could be sure that a cow had never been given hormones to increase its milk production.

    * US cows: what they produced cannot be labelled “natural”

    (Fig Omitted)

    Americans drink 309 litres of milk a year per person, but farmers still manage to export 909 million litres. Two weeks ago the FDA said that cows could produce even more milk by being given recombinant bovine somatotrophin, a growth hormone. The news was greeted by only minor protests in New York, Washington, and Seattle. Most dairy cows in the US are already fed various drugs, including antibiotics.

    Several grocery chains, however, said that they would help consumers retain a choice by labelling milk as “with hormones” and “without hormones.” The FDA says that such labelling would be false and illegal. A spokesman for the FDA said that offering such labels would be unfair. Firstly, the milk would contain only traces of somatotrophin, and, secondly, it would be impossible to be sure that a cow had never been given the hormones.

    “The FDA believes that such misleading implications could best be avoided by the use of accompanying information that puts the statement in a proper context,” said the FDA's press release. The FDA said that the labels should include footnotes starting that “no significant difference has been shown between milk” from cows given bovine somatotrophin and those not given it.

    Any grocery store or dairy that made such “no somatotrophin” claims would have to produce records that accounted for the milk from every cow in the herds, right to the grocery shelf.

    Consumer advocates do not claim that bovine somatotrophin directly harms humans. But they pointed out that cows fed with the hormone are more likely to have engorged udders, which are more likely to become infected. This necessitates the use of more antibiotics, which do appear in milk.

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