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Parents raise concerns about growth hormones in dairy cows

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There's a rumor spreading about milk scaring many parents. The claims are centered on a certain hormone believed to cause health problems, including cancer, in children.

The hormone in question is an artificial growth hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone or rBGH. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the hormone's use in cows and many dairy farmers do inject their cows with rBGH. But the European Union, Canada and even some local farmers have banned the hormone from their dairy products.  

"We just don't want to," said Drew Braum, president of Braum's Ice Cream & Dairy Stores. "We don't feel that it's right for us, for our customer's."

Braum's has more than 10,000 cows, which means several thousands galloons of milk are produced every day.

Some dairy companies, like Horizon, print on their milk labels that they don't use growth hormones. But many milk companies who do use growth hormones, don't let the public know they are using them or which ones they are using.  

"How would I know that the milk had this hormone in it or that the cows had been given that hormone?" asked Stephanie Greenwald, an Oklahoma City mother of two young.

Oklahoma State University's dairy farmers do use growth hormones and they don't think there is anything wrong with them. OSU cows are injected with both rBGH and recombinant bovine somatotropin, rBST, growth hormones.

"It's (rBST) a hormone that the cow makes herself," said David Jones, OSU herd manager. "It's in her naturally anyway, so yes, we do feel like it's a safe product.

Some scientists agree with Jones-there is no proof to substantiate the rumors that growth hormones in milk cause harm.

"No research has ever proven that rBST would be unsafe to be utilized," said Dr. Noah Litherland, a dairy scientist. "In the history of agriculture has no drug even been more thoroughly researched than rBST. It's been researched since about 1930 when we originally discovered that recombinant bovine somatotropin could have a beneficial effect on lactation."

That's the hook. Dairy farmers use the hormones, because it increases milk production. More milk per cow means fewer cows. Even though Litherland believes the growth hormones are safe, he does also believe the United States will phase the hormone out within the next two years.

But Greenwald said she's comfortable drinking milk again after hearing the research on these growth hormones; and she's just as comfortable giving the milk to her children.  

Originially Aired: 11-13-2007

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