The challenge of bringing milk to consumers is a series of obstacles and timing. 2011 statistics from the Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show us that the US is leading in both total milk production and milk yield per cow. This can clearly be shown statistically – an average US cow producing 40 times that of an average cow in Tanzania (9678 kg/year and 239 kg/year respectively).1
That huge variation in production is due in large part to Bovine somatotropin (rBST). Four large pharmaceutical companies, Monsanto, American Cyanamid, Eli Lilly, and Upjohn, developed commercial rBST products and submitted them to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. In 1993, the product was approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA, and its use began (under the name Posilac) in 1994 (In October 2008, Monsanto sold this business, in full, to Eli Lilly and Company for $300 million plus additional consideration). The product is now sold in all 50 states. Even though the U.S. FDA approved Monsanto’s application in 1993, rBST has been immersed in controversy since the early 1980s. Part of the controversy concerns over potential effects on animal health.
The FDA stated that food products made from rBST treated cows are safe for human consumption, and no statistically significant difference exists between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows.2 In 1990, an independent panel convened by the National Institute of Health supported the FDA opinion that milk and meat from cows supplemented with rBST is safe for human consumption.3 The FDA does not require special labels for products produced from cows given rBST but has charged several dairies with “misbranding” its milk as having no hormones, because all milk contains hormones and cannot be produced in such a way that it would not contain any hormones.
“Safe” or not, at the Swarthmore Co-op, we do not allow milk from cows that have been treated with rBST. We prefer to lean toward the side of caution and want our food to be simply that, food – no added hormones, antibiotics or drugs. Which brings us back to the challenge of bringing milk to consumers.
When national milk providers, like Dean Foods, are in the process of finding milk for their enormous market share of consumers, many times they are not concerned with how the milk is produced or where. They simply want as much as they can get.
To be fair, however, of the two hundred farms that contribute their milk to the combination that becomes Lehigh Valley’s product, none of them use rBST, or other hormones, drugs and antibiotics. Or at least that’s what the label states. But even if it is true, we would rather receive milk from a farm that we know, that we have visited and observed in every aspect of their production process than one that concocts a milk cocktail with little to no transparency in its process.
This is where Merrymead comes into sight. Living in this area, we are fortunate enough to have one of very few small farm milk producers that are able to distribute its product throughout the region without combining its milk with other products or using added drugs, hormones or antibiotics. To us, this is more important than the ease of ordering the product, than the beautiful labels, than the recognition of a brand and than the price. Another area where we are fortunate is that we are able to get Merrymead’s milk at a cost that is within pennies of the product we receive from the larger distributors, which means, we can sell it for exactly the same price.
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