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What does rBST Free Mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a synthetic version of the Bovine somatotropin (BST) hormone found in cattle. The hormone is used by many commercial dairies to increase milk production. It's been marketed under a number of names, but most consumers know it as rBST or BST. The use of rBST has met with some controversy from a variety of fronts, including the animal rights movement and some commercial dairy farmers. As a result, dairies that produce milk products without the use of rBST have begun indicating this on their labels. Though rBST has been banned in several countries, the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has determined it to be safe to consume.

BST is a natural hormone that can be found in the pituitary glands of all cows. Researchers who studied BST in cows found that cows with elevated levels of the hormone produced more milk. They also discovered that BST extracted from one cow and injected into another would result in higher levels of milk production for the BST treated cow. Increased milk production per cow was attractive to some dairy farmers and as a result, synthesized BST was developed by recombining the DNA of bacteria to force them to produce the hormone. This synthetic BST, or rBST, was then tested in dairy cattle. In the US, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that because rBST is a species-specific growth hormone, milk from rBST treated cows is identical to that of cows not injected with the hormone. As a result, rBST treated milk was approved for commercial sale.

rBST is a synthetic version of a hormone naturally found in cows.
rBST is a synthetic version of a hormone naturally found in cows.

Whether rBST is healthy for human consumption is disputed and because of this rBST-free labeling was initiated. In the US, this labeling was permitted only after some battling with the United States Department of Agriculture. In the end, dairies in the United States are allowed to use the rBST-free label as long as a disclaimer is included suggesting that no harmful human health effects have been linked with the hormone. This claim is contested by some scientists, who argue that further research on the hormone is needed before such a claim can be made. There is, however, some agreement within the commercial dairy industry on the use of rBST being harmful to the cows, forcing them to produce more milk than is normal and safe. They argue that the synthetic hormone can cause calcium deficiency and result in bone weakness in some cows.

rBST is often used to increase milk production.
rBST is often used to increase milk production.

Aside from the health-related controversy, some dairies are taking a more consumer-driven angle and marketing their milk production as "natural" and "humane" in order to grow a stronger, more loyal customer base — much in the same way as the egg market with "free range" and "organically-fed" chickens. These dairies figure that consumers can decide whether or not they want to consume rBST. The use of the rBST-free label has been bitterly fought by both pharmaceutical companies and mostly large-scale dairies, who would prefer that the label not be used at all. Some of them feel that the rBST-free label unnecessarily instills fear in consumers.

Countries in the European Union have banned the use of rBST in dairy cattle.
Countries in the European Union have banned the use of rBST in dairy cattle.

Many nations, including those in the European Union and Canada, have banned the use of rBST in their cattle. The European Union is more inclined to ban any use of hormones in their food supply, suggesting that they would prefer that consumers eat more naturally produced foods. Many advocates against the use of rBST point to this ban, suggesting that the United States should follow suit and disallow the use of the controversial hormone.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


To those who say bst isn't harmful: Why not mention how increased levels of igf-1 are produced as a result and how it can cause tumor growth?

That's what's wrong with these companies and the USDA, EPA, and FDA. They only want to tell us of the lack of primary side effects and ignore secondary side effects.


I started having diarrhea several times a week. I tried doing several things, but when I stopped drinking milk with rbst in it, the diarrhea completely stopped. That's proof enough for me that using rbst is wrong.


I used to have the most painful nights trying to sleep. The arthritis was so extremely painful and I am only in my 40s. Then I got off of all dairy products from cows injected with hormones. All the pain went away the very first night. I don't care what the studies or anyone else says. Somehow those hormones were hurting me terribly.


Wow a lot of bad info around here.

rBST can indeed prolong a cows life. It is designed to be given to cows on the tail end of their lactation (although it is used differently by a lot of folks) and cows that have not bred back and would normally be culled due to lack of production may be kept longer before being sent to the sausage factory.

rBST cannot affect humans in and of itself. It does not affect puberty in girls. It simply cannot since it is first, not a human hormone and thus cannot be used in the human body and second, it is rendered unusable by the digestion process. Anyone claiming to the contrary has no idea what they are talking about.

And just so you know, although the EU has bans on the use of rBST, it has no ban on the importation of milk that may contain it from the US.

As for the mastitis thing, it is a proven fact that it is more prevalent in high producing animals, so even if you matched the production boost of rBST with tweaks in your ration and superior breeding, you will still be battling the mastitis problems.


Scientific studies shows that there are no negative impacts from using rbst on cows which can affect humans.

Simple logical reasoning will tell you that if rbst can affect a cow's mortality and health, think what it can do to a human who consumes the affected cow.

In a short term of a few years, there may be no detrimental effect on humans. But what about ten years later or 20 or 30 or the next generation? What kind of disease could it cause in human?

For the sake of money, many people will do anything, even play God, to get it. In the end, humans are the ones to suffer.


When controversy hovers over our food supply we need to err on the side of safety. Avoid as many man induced hormones and chemicals as possible. Many diseases are on the rise - all the reasons are not known. Save money somewhere else, on safer better packaging, etc., not on cutting quality by modifying our food supply.


I thought milk was milk until I tried Smith Dairy milk it is rBST free. You can most definitely taste the difference! It's the only milk I'll buy now! They really don't know the long term effects from using it!


if you were a cow, how would you feel if you were given rBST and your milk fed to a human, instead of your own calf?

is it not cruel enough to milk the cow and feed people? though it's humane to do so, it's cruel to abuse this unfair advantage of humans over animals. rBST, safe or unsafe should not be used to produce more milk. what should be done is to stop wasting milk, like keep them in good storage temperatures at home, and use a glass and not to drink directly from the milk box, and those sorts of things. be responsible, and share the world's future with the next generation.


rBST is evil and those who support it are no different. You are either ignorant, brainwashed or bribed by Monsanto. If indeed you are ignorant, do some research on Monsanto, and you will find out how Monsanto has used bribery and the like tactics to suppress the harmful truth of rBST.


A court just ruled in a case brought by the dairy industry against labeling. First, I think it's wrong to try to block more information on our food choices. So I'm happy the court ruled in favor of allowing labeling. In so ruling the court said that there's significant evidence that cows treated with this substance produce lower quality milk.


There is no BST free milk. BST is a naturally occurring hormone in the cow's body. No consumer will ever purchase hormone free milk; it's not biologically possible.

Dairy cows are also the most worked animal on any farm. They live to produce milk; that is their job. Treating them with rBST just forces them to use more of their body reserves. There really is no healthy dairy cow. Whether or not treating these cows with rBST is healthy for humans, these cows need rest, not even more forced work.


Did you know that even if rBST is not given to dairy cows your milk still contains BST naturally?


It's so sad that we have to do research on the products we consume before we buy them. Why can't we just buy milk and know it's "pure" milk from a normal, healthy cow? Good grief!


Recombinant bovine somatotropin (or rBST) is a management tool that some people choose to use on their dairies.

Recombinant bovine somatotropin is not a substitute for excellent animal facilities and nutrition, or preventive veterinary care, but can be used by vigilant dairy managers to increase the profitability of each animal in a comparable management system by 5-10%. This means that fewer animals are required to make a farm cash-flow and to meet consumer demand for dairy products. When dairy farms feed and house fewer animals to produce the same amount of milk, the economic cost and environmental cost of producing each pound of milk goes down. If each animal is 5-10% more profitable, farmers can invest 5-10% more back into making that animal even more healthy, comfortable, and productive by upgrading facilities and equipment, improving nutrition, etc.

Product labeling promoting “rBST-free” milk, which costs more than milk without this label, has made consumers think that milk from cows that have received rBST and milk from cows that have not is different. It is not. All cows produce BST naturally and there is BST in all milk. Milk from cows given rBST is therefore indistinguishable from all other milk. Furthermore, because of this labeling, many consumers think that rBST could harm them. This is untrue—all somatotropins are species-specific, meaning that they only act on the animal that produced them. Bovine somatotropin has no effect on any other animal, including humans. The rBST product used by dairy farmers underwent stringent testing through the USDA in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and has been used on farms without any side-effects on animals, management, or consumers, for more than ten years. The insinuation that rBST causes animals to die within 1 or 2 lactation cycles of beginning treatment is absolutely unfounded and ridiculous.

The only negative reports associated with rBST in cattle came from the early studies when the sample size was two or three animals, and if one of them died from something unrelated, the study had a reported mortality rate of 50%.


you know what, it does seem different. the non rBST is kind of better.


look up Monsanto. it's the same company that brought us such glorious compounds as DDT, and Agent Orange. the company has been has used a combination of GMO corn and rbst to squeeze every dollar of milk possible out of dairy cattle.

I think of it like this: eating that week old chinese food in the fridge. You might not have any digestion problems with it, but why take the chance?

Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas

and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld both worked for Monsanto. i could post a list of politicians, lawyers and heads of big business who work/ed for Monsanto and its subsidiaries.


To anon50086: Says who? Where are you getting those statistics from? And how can you be sure there's an definite and direct correlation between the use of rBST and those numbers?

I think it's ridiculous that the pharmaceutical companies and commercial dairies are fighting against labeling milk produced without the use of rBSTs as such. Aren't we as consumers supposed to be "free to choose," as Milton Friedman famously wrote? I'm sorry, pharmaceutical companies and dairies, but I thought this was America.


So we shorten the cow's lifespan to get more milk, so the producers can make more money faster? Natural? I think not.


Just curious is this milk that is free from the hormone taste different? I just bought some milk from Rite Aid which is rBST free and it tastes a lot different than that which I normally buy at Meijer. Hope to hear something on this. Peace out.


I agree with anon25979 -- the natural way is the best! Cows shouldn't be forced to take hormones and produce excessive, unnatural amounts of milk. They should get to live the way they were designed to live. Why do we alter things that are already beautiful?


For every million cows treated with rbST each year, 6.6 billion gallons of water are conserved, the amount of animal feed consumed is reduced by more than 3 billion pounds, the land required to raise the cattle and grow their food is reduced by more than 417 square miles, more than 5.5 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel are saved, greenhouse gas emissions are lowered by 30,000 metric tons (because fewer cows means less methane produced by bovine intestinal tracts), and manure production is cut by about 3.6 million tons.


To anon32691, cats may like to drink cows milk, but they shouldn't. A large percentage of cats are lactose intolerant so it will make them sick or give them diarrhea or gastrointestinal issues.

So, just because they like it doesn't mean they should have it. It's like my dog, the speed and veracity with which he eats his food is not an indication of how much he likes the taste


Can anyone tell me a popular brand of canned(evaporated) milk that iS rBST free?


rBST free is the way to go! Stop the greed!


To anon21788: Why is that we always give cats *and* kittens that "saucer of milk"? You can't tell me cats don't like milk.


Consumers should be free to choose foods that they are buying. Information such as how our foods are produced should be made easily available to us. We all have the right to know where our food comes from. I would never leave the decision to scientists or governments.


A European Union scientific commission stated that the use of rBST substantially increased health problems with cows, including foot problems, mastitis and injection site reactions, impinged on the welfare of the animals and caused reproductive disorders. The report concluded that, on the basis of the health and welfare of the animals, rBST should not be used.

The concern about human health is mostly unbased speculation, but the decrease in animal health is very evident. When you think about it, it makes sense that altering the biological content of animals designed through evolution to balance health with milk production would cause significant health problems.

I think it is inhumane and cruel to artificially alter the body content of living animals in ways that may cause health problems in cows to only produce 10%-20% more milk, and I'm welcome to arguments to the contrary, but I don't think legitimate ones exist.

By the way, it is estimated that the world produces one and a half times the amount of food the world needs already. The concern with food isn't supply, it's distribution. Also milk is a relatively inefficient conversion of calories from grass or corn fed to cows compared to just eating plants, so it's hardly the drink that will solve the world's hunger problems, although it is very nutritious.


rBST may be harmful - and it may be best that we avoid it - but let's not get too self-righteous and make broad claims like "there's no better way than the natural way."

Snake bites, falling off cliffs and cyanide are all natural. Do you like living that way? Pasteurization, open heart surgery, homogenization, c-sections, cell phones, tractors, roads, disease resistant hybrids and so much more have allowed this earth to support its 6,000,000,000 people and we may never know how many lives are saved by "unnatural" means.


There is no better way than the natural way. It is that way for a reason. If cows were supposed to mass-produce milk in such a quantity, then they would have been created from the beginning that way.

If you have ever noticed the natural things in life are the most efficient and pure things in life. Such as a human heart. It beats from the beginning to the end of your whole entire life. Lets see a human invent something with that technology. Stick with the best of everything. The natural foods in life are the way they were intended to be used.


I agree with Anon19236, if you treat those cows with rbst than it goes to humans as well. And look at the europe. yes they don't have use of hormones in the system and look at them, they have fewer people with cancers and all kind of disease and they have free healthcare here in big USA they are poisoning us and our kids with hormones and then they charge us enormous amount of money to treat ourselves with same poison pills, radiation, surgeries and etc..... i strongly agree that this is all about money and big USA have to many lawyers and pharmaceutical company have billions of dollars to pay their lawyers and little people like us like consumers are sitting around and doing anything about it cause we don't have enough money but we have more voices to stop it!


I just find it interesting that humans are the only creatures that continue to drink milk once weaned from their mothers. No other animal/mammal does.


This ignorance is annoying me. As a dairy farmer, I can say that the use of rBST is not in any way harming cows or consumers. You can disagree with me all you want, but that statement has been scientifically proven numerous times. I also drink my own milk, not organic milk (also because I disagree with those practices, but that is a can of worms I will not open) and it has not harmed me. The only reason it is banned in parts of Europe is because consumer demand. But we can not let ignorance determine what is sold and what is not. This supplement has been used for years and nobody found anything wrong with it, why now?


Whether or not to use/ingest rBST is a very simple issue. If you are injecting cows with unnatural levels of hormones, it is obviously going to negatively affect not only the cow itself, but you, the consumer who is drinking that cow's milk or eating any of it's byproducts. Modern technology is going too far trying to mass produce animal products, and pharmaceutical companies do not care about the consumer's health, they only care about making profits. I bet most of the people who advocate for the use of hormones to make money, drink only organic milk and wouldn't dream of giving it to their children. It's all about making money. People have been drinking milk and eating meat without hormones for thousands of years, why should we start now? I have a feeling that the use of biotechnology in our foods are the cause of many diseases/illnesses that are killing people all over the world. Please, choose wisely when buying your groceries, check the labels, and try to buy organic products if you can.


BST is a hormone which means it's a protein. Ingesting it would denature it, rendering it inactive. People are taller, develop earlier, live longer than their grandparents because quality of living is higher. It has nothing to do with what's in the food but rather the quality of food you eat. A person with a healthier diet is going to develop faster or grow closer to their maximum potential than someone with a nutrient poor diet. Plus there's the whole realm of genetic expression and recessive genes but that's a whole other discussion. There's more to it than "somebody's tainted the meat!". Do a little research and it will make sense.


All I can say is that these last 2 generations are developing sooner. They are taller and bigger than there parents... And I have a feeling that these pro-hormone posters either are using hormones themselves or work for Monsanto or a company owned by Monsanto...


What does this do to our young daughters development when they drink milk from cows injected with this hormone? and what studies or facts support our childrens health when they ingest this milk? Is this the first generation of children to be given this milk?


Whoever posted the last comment, they are wrong. rBST doesn't help cattle live longer ... it actually takes years off of their lifespan.


BST is good for its use and can help older cows live longer healthier lives


Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin is one of the greater advances to the modern Dairy industry. Increasing the productive capacity of the dairy cow not only increases efficiency, it also allows the animal to maintain a high DMI (Dry matter intake). This benefits the cow by constantly maintaining a health rumen environment, hence a more comfortable life. Under proper management techniques, cattle treated with rBST can stay in production for several lactations, on par, if not better than animals without rBST treatment.

Cattle (and animals in general) are not able to communicate their feelings to humans. Therefore, we have had to take steps to monitor cow comfort through solid, scientific means: stress-hormone levels in blood. NO scientific studies have found statistically significant increases in stress indicator hormones in cattle treated with rBST. Cattle still live healthy, low stress lives with the treatment of rBST.

Lastly, Hormones in Milk:

There is no way to measure the actual amount of somatotropin in milk, as it is a naturally occurring hormone, and is present in milk regardless of treatment with rBST. It is also a protein hormone; specifically coded to its target. Even if there were hormones in the milk, the pasteurization process would denature the protein, effectively rendering the hormone biologically inactive.

Some dairy producers still have problems with the use of rBST in cattle. However, when it comes down to it, it is all economics. Some producers will not use it as they can pocket a premium for "cows not treated with rBST" milk. Other producers look on a macroeconomic scale. With an increase in supply, the price for milk will go down, reducing revenue to the producer. However, following this logic, farms could just start dumping milk to raise the milk price, correct?

When it comes down to it, rBST is here and here to stay. As we face a growing global population, we must be able to feed more people with fewer resources. The answer to this is technology, be it rBST, GM crops, or more efficient food systems.


If a consumer wants to buy bst free milk please go for it, but please refuse to pay more for it than milk that is not labeled as such. Right now a farmer might get a 1 percent premium for giving up what may or may not be a profitable technology. If you want to support farmers who produce your food the way you want it produced look for a farm that retails it's own milk--don't support the price gougers.

It is ineffective to start using bst late in a cow's lactation.

Using bst can actually keep a cow more fit in late lactation. If a cow goes too long before she gets pregnant she will drop off in production long before she is ready to dry off. If she is eating the same high energy diet her high producing herdmates are she will get over conditioned or fat. If she is treated with extra bst she can continue to put that energy into making milk rather than getting "out of shape" which could cause more problems by the next lactation. This is where bst really can do some good, when the normal gestation cycle gets a little out of whack, using bst can help keep that cow productive rather than on her way to MacDonalds

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    • rBST is a synthetic version of a hormone naturally found in cows.
      By: Pat
      rBST is a synthetic version of a hormone naturally found in cows.
    • rBST is often used to increase milk production.
      By: Hyrma
      rBST is often used to increase milk production.
    • Countries in the European Union have banned the use of rBST in dairy cattle.
      By: lidante
      Countries in the European Union have banned the use of rBST in dairy cattle.
    • It's disputed whether recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is safe for human consumption.
      By: efired
      It's disputed whether recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is safe for human consumption.
    • The use of rBST hormones are not banned in dairy farms in the U.S.
      By: pisotckii
      The use of rBST hormones are not banned in dairy farms in the U.S.