When Wal-Mart last month announced their house brand milk will now come exclusively from cows not treated with growth hormones, they may have tipped the scales in favor of consumers and sounded the death knell for the use of artificial bovine growth hormone in commercial milk production.
Consumers and animal welfare advocates have long been leery of the artificial growth hormones that allow treated cows to produce up to ten percent more milk. Although Monsanto (who markets the hormones to dairy farmers under the Posilac brand) insists the hormones don't affect the safety of milk and scientists say there is no conclusive evidence to the contrary, many consumers are still leery. And animal welfare advocates point out that it can't be good for the cows -- in fact, a dairy cow raised on pasture will probably produce milk for ten years, as opposed to two years' production for cows raised in confinement dairies and given the hormones.
Conventional dairy farmers have been angered by the movement, fearing their incomes will decrease if their production decreases. But given the laws of supply and demand it seems obvious that if the entire industry is producing ten percent less milk, demand will drive prices per gallon up and eventually it should balance out for farmers (though of course being more expensive for consumers.) And according to the results of a four-year study reported in the Journal of Dairy Science, when all factors are considered, conventional dairy farmers might do well to go back to traditional methods:
Milk production was lower in this study for pasture-based systems but lower feed costs, lower culling costs, and other economic factors indicate that pasture-based systems can be competitive with confinement systems.
Kroger and Starbucks are also selling only hormone-free milk in response to consumer demand, and Safeway has switched its in-house brand to exclusively hormone-free. Monsanto, however, has stated that it has no plans to pull Posilac and that sales remain strong.