UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program
Davis, CA 95616
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Dairy industry awaits consumer reaction to bST approval
DAVIS -- Dairy farmers and pharmaceutical companies alike are
anxiously awaiting consumer reaction to the Feb. 4 lifting of a moratorium
on the sale of bovine growth hormone (bGH), a controversial technology that
boosts milk production.
BGH, also known as bovine somatotropin (bST), is a synthetically
produced version of a naturally occurring cow hormone. The Food and Drug
Administration has studied bGH extensively and approved it Nov. 5, 1993.
However, congressional opponents succeeded in passing a 90-day moratorium
on sale of the product. Many consumers remain skeptical and several
consumer groups vow boycotts that could prove disruptive to the dairy
According to two UC Davis researchers, two main issues await
consumers and dairy farmers: How will consumers know if bST is in their
milk since labeling is not required? And, if consumers mount a boycott,
how long will it last and how will it affect dairy farmers and the chemical
companies that produce the synthetic hormone?
"Consumers want labeling," says Gail Feenstra, a
nutritionist and food systems analyst with the UC Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education Program (SAREP), and a contributing author of "THE
DAIRY DEBATE: Consequences of Bovine Growth Hormone and Rotational Grazing
"All of the surveys related to this subject show that more
than 75 percent of consumers are consistent in their desire to
see milk labeled," Feenstra says. "Consumers will have no way of
knowing if bST was used to produce the milk, cheese, yogurt, ice
cream and other dairy products they are eating because the FDA
does not now require labeling."
Feenstra predicts there will be no significant price
reduction in milk products as a result of bST use, but consumers will still
be asked to take any unknown health risks associated with the product.
Industry acknowledges that dairy herds injected with bST will
experience up to a 50 percent increase in the rate of mastitis, an udder
infection that results in greater use of antibiotics, and an increased risk
of antibiotic residues in the milk supply.
"The next few months will be a critical time for consumers to
express their opinions to their grocery store managers and legislators about
whether milk produced with a synthetic growth hormone should be available at
all, and if it is, whether it should be labeled," Feenstra says.
David Campbell, SAREP economic and public policy analyst and a
contributing author of "The Dairy Debate," notes dairy farmers are concerned
that increased milk production coupled with a possible decrease in
consumption would hurt milk prices for farmers. A reported 80 percent of
California milk processors require producers to sign affidavits that they
will not use the synthetic hormone, or have asked farmers in writing to
refrain from using it. "Producers are taking a 'wait and see' attitude,"
Campbell says. "They'll want to see what consumer reaction will be, and
whether opponents of the product will be able to successfully pursue
legislation that will extend the moratorium on bST or mandate labeling."
Campbell says the pharmaceutical companies that produce the synthetic bovine
growth hormone will also be closely watching consumer reaction to sales of
bST. "Monsanto can only make money if its product is widely adopted," he
says. "It's certainly not a good sign to them that a large majority of milk
processors in California don't want this product at this time."
Campbell says Californians interested in this issue can
contact their elected representatives about possible legislation
to establish statewide labeling for bST products.
Campbell says that if bST is widely adopted, additional
government purchases of excess milk due to bST-induced increases
will cost taxpayers as well as dairy producers. Once purchases
exceed 7 billion pounds (6.5 billion surplus pounds were produced
in 1991), dairy producers will be charged an assessment to
underwrite the government's costs.
Seven studies Campbell reviewed showed that bST would
accelerate the trend toward a concentration of larger farms and
hasten the demise of smaller and mid-size dairy operations.
"Today 5 percent of the nation's farms produce half the total
agricultural output," he says. "If this trend continues, in 10
years 1 percent of all U.S. farms will produce most of our food."
As a result, Campbell adds, the collapse of the small and mid-
size dairies is likely to have a harmful effect on the
communities and regions they support.
"In short, if our only concern was the economic health of
the dairy industry, it would be hard to imagine a product that is
less appropriate than bST," says Campbell.
"THE DAIRY DEBATE," published by UC SAREP in August 1993,
includes the perspectives of veterinary, soil, agronomy, forage
and nutrition scientists in addition to economists and public
policy analysts who assess the consequences of bST-produced milk
and an alternative technology, rotational grazing.
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