What is rBGH?

Posted on August 21, 2007 by Allie


rBGH, or recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is a synthetic form of growth hormone injected into cows to increase growth rates and milk production. Manufactured by Monsanto, rBGH was introduced to the market in 1993 under the product name Posilac. rBGH is also referred to as rBST (recombinant Bovine Somatotropin).

Cattle naturally produce BGH. In the 1930′s, farmers discovered that injecting this hormone from slaughtered animals into dairy cows increased their milk production. But the difficulties in getting BGH limited this practice. Recombinant DNA technology allows for the production of rBGH commercially.

When used in lactating cows, rBGH can increase the milk production by 10-15%, by limiting mammary cell death. So while an untreated cow’s milk production will begin to decrease roughly seventy days after the start of lactation, a cow treated with rBGH can continue producing at peak levels.

The increased milk production in cows can lead to mastitis, an infection that is treated by antibiotics. While it is illegal to sell milk contaminated with antibiotics, many people are concerned that contaminated milk still gets into distribution and can cause antibiotic resistance in the population. rBGH can also inhibit the cow’s ability to reproduce later on, cause bone weakness, and possibly premature death.

While many studies show no increase in health risks associated with the use of rBGH, cows treated with rBGH do have increased levels of bovine insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1). rBGH is said to be removed from milk during the pasteurization process, but IGF-1 is not. According to the Organic Consumers Association,

Eli Lilly, in its application for registration of rBGH, admitted that IGF-1 blood levels of injected cows are increased up to ten-fold. IGF-1 is resistant to pasteurization and digestion, and is readily absorbed from the small intestine. Monsanto’s own data revealed that feeding IGF-1 to adult rats for only two weeks significantly increased body and liver weights, and bone length.

While IGF-1 is naturally occurring in humans, increased levels of IGF-1 have been found in patients with certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, although other studies have shown that IGF-1 levels in the blood are not linked to milk consumption.

There is no requirement for milk produced through the use of rBGH to be labeled as such. Organic standards do not allow for the use of rBGH or antibiotics in milk production, so milk that is certified organic is also rBGH free.

The FDA maintains that “no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST & non-rBST treated cows,” but the European Union, Canada, New Zealand and Australia all prohibit the use of rBST/rBGH.

The range of reports is wide and conflicting, and both sides may be heavily biased. Organic farmers stand to gain business from consumers who are concerned about the use of rBST, but the FDA has interesting connections to Monsanto. Michael Taylor, former FDA commissioner for policy was an attorney for Monsanto prior to joining the FDA, and went to work for Monsanto directly upon leaving the FDA.

rBGH-free dairy production is better for the health of the cow, and organic farming practices prohibit the use of pesticides in cattle feed, so there are other benefits to organic milk beyond the issue of rBGH’s effects on humans.

No matter where you fall on the rBGH issue, it’s important to make educated food choices and feel confident in the products you and your family consume.

How do you feel about rBGH? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Source, Source, Source, Source, Source


  1. Hi Allie,
    I’m so happy that you posted this entry! I’m always pushing for Steve to buy organic milk, since he drinks it everyday. He never wants to buy it because of the higher price. I believe that its better to be safe than sorry and that milk should be produced as nature intended.

    I’m wondering if you have any eco-friendly ideas for freshening up a smelly basement. We have two cats and although we scoop their litter daily and have a dehumidifier in the basement, it still stinks! I would like to do yoga down there, but I can’t stand that “basement smell”. Any ideas?

    August 23rd, 2007 at 3:08 pm
    Comment by Corinne
  2. That’s my feeling, too. Yes, organic farmers may have a vested interest in getting people to buy organic milk, but in that case the worst that happens is that organic farmers are supported by the money we pay in exchange for a high quality product.
    I’d rather err on the side of caution too.

    Ooh! Tips for fixing a smelly basement — I’ll look into it! Thanks for the idea!

    August 24th, 2007 at 1:18 pm
    Comment by Allie
  3. Thank God, I was exposed to this information during my first year in USA (2006), so that’s when I made a switch to a non-dairy, non-meat life. Actually my whole family did, my 12 kid does very well with rice and almond milk.
    As for Monsanto, FDA and Pharmaceutical giants – it looks like these folks have some kind of a deal, may be something like this: “We’ll produce the crap to cause of illness (monsanto), you approve (FDA) and you (Eli Lilly, Bayer etc.) find a drug to take care of symptoms caused by those illnesses…and then FDA approves the drug”. I refuse to be anyone’s lab rat! And despise those who experiment on lab animals as well!

    May 24th, 2009 at 12:36 am
    Comment by Vicky
  4. Organic farmers have been feeding people for hundreds of years. Just because Monsanto comes out with something that produces more milk doesn’t mean organic farmers have something to gain from fear. My opinion is I don’t want something in my food that isn’t on the label.

    November 10th, 2009 at 1:32 pm
    Comment by Chris
  5. This is all rediculous. There is no rbst in the milk you drink and even if there were it is not active in humans, only in cows. Also the author of this page obviously does not know anything of the science. It is not bovine insulin growth factor, it is insulin like growth factor 1. It is the same in humans as in cows thus it is not bovine IGF-1. There is also scientific evidence that IGF-1 levels in rbst derived milk fall in the normal levels of variation for non rbst derived milk. Even still if you are worried about cancer from IGF-1 in your milk, here’s an idea; don’t drink milk. The last thing I’m taking the time to say is for you environmentally minded people. The number of cows, land, and other resources needed to produce the demanded amount of milk is reduced with the use of rbst, since each cow produces more milk during lactation and less cows means less feed and less land needed for the cows and the grain to feed them, as well as less water for them to drink.

    December 3rd, 2009 at 4:55 am
    Comment by Justin
  6. Actually, this is a nice article for awareness. Justin, the point to take from this is just how important it is for us to localize these industries. We should not have large cattle farms in the middle of Texas producing milk for the whole country, we should have small farms in our communities naturally harvesting our milk without any need to overcrowd and especially not over medicate cows. Think about the methane pollution, the intestine of a cow is causing greenhouse gases! If it was a small farm it would just be cow poop, harmless and even nutritious for our fruit and vegetable gardens. For Monsanto to almost own the FDA and decide what is right is not a comforting thought to me, but maybe it is to others, but to not even have an option anymore to get natural milk is definitely harmful direction. If something happened to that farm, we wouldn’t even have milk or the price would go up so we couldn’t afford it, like if they caught a disease and it spread to all the cows. I like to get my milk from a local farmer, knowing that there is a job being provided to a human and to get my milk it is like driving 5 miles away, not 300 miles away.

    January 1st, 2010 at 4:42 pm
    Comment by Lepenaut
  7. Yeah? totally harmless for humans?
    I´m wondering then why they banned Rgbh in Canada, Europe, and Australia?
    Just some kind of ecologicall paranoia?
    Dont think so.
    Justin,also what science says is very usually turned around to make us think everything is safe.
    When you look at scientific studies, you find oposit thesis, that are both scientifically argued. what to believe?
    I don´t know. In my opinion,I wouldn´t trust geneticall engineering. take a look on the revolving doors between FDA and Monsanto. Who could trust this people after that kind of practice?

    September 5th, 2011 at 5:56 pm
    Comment by Dave
  8. I,from my viewpoint,can’t believe that some chemical things that are injected to cattle can free from doing any harm to them,for they have altered the nature way that cattle grow as they started injecting. I,too,don’t trust genetically engineering products or produce. Companies like Monsanto would favor the use of genetically engineering is that it is really harmless for humans or that they are fearing they might lose the benefit on it if too many people reject it?The top priority that agencies like FDA shall be protecting and promoting PUBLIC HEALTH;nonetheless,revolving door between government department and personal companies can’t help but reveal a phenomenon that the authority concerned is suspected to have some interests with some minor,but advantaged,people.That is indeed contrary to aid the PUBLIC HEALTH!!!The problem such as rBGH might not,for some people,serious enough to be an issue to discuss;yet,there are yet many aspects that haven’t been revealed,yet.Thus,as far as I am concerned,we should keep noticing these problems lest they should enlarge their influence to creatures on earth.

    April 4th, 2012 at 1:47 am
    Comment by Lily Tang

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