Just when you thought it might be safe to buy milk at your local store that wasn’t laced with a genetically enhanced growth hormone, along comes the Eli Lilly Company to try and increase its use in cattle.
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) has been a troubled commodity for Monsanto with flat sales and a host of discontented consumers rejecting milk produced by cows injected with this product. As a result of declining sales, the company has sold this element of its business to a willing buyer for $300 million. The hormone will now come under the auspices of Eli Lilly through its agricultural division Elanco of Greenfield, Indiana.
Posilac® is the trade name of rBGH, a product that is increasingly being rejected by consumers around the country for two reasons. One is the concern that drinking rBGH milk can contribute to some forms of cancer. The other simply has to do with concern for the health of animals that are treated with it. Use of the product is allowed in 49 U.S. states with Michigan being the only exception. The countries of Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia prohibit its use as well.
The synthetic hormone rBGH is used by farmers to increase milk production during the later stages of the lactation period in cows. The manufacturer’s recommendations call for it to be injected into the milk-producing cow at approximately day 50 of lactation. Doing so is supposed to enhance the poundage of milk production over the remainder of the period the cow gives milk by as much as 7 or 8 pounds per day.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, Posilac® is actually declining in use by U.S. milk producers. Figures show that it was used in about 22 percent of U.S. dairy cows in 2002, but that use had dropped to 17 percent by 2007. This decline has been fueled by consumer concern and the associated reaction by many food marketing chains. Companies like Kroger, Wal-Mart, Safeway and Publix have all switched their store brand of products to certified rBGHfree milk. Starbucks is among the latest national marketing groups to go rBGH-free. This was accomplished at the beginning of 2008.
Elanco, in purchasing Posilac® and planning to increase marketing efforts, certainly has a different view of the product than members of the concerned public. “With our rich history and experience in the dairy industry, Elanco is the ideal steward of this vital technology,” said Jeff Simmons, company president. “Elanco remains committed to using science to address the growing need for safe, affordable food; and choices for consumers, retailers and producers.”
An alternate point of view is provided by Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of the consumer’s group Food & Water Watch. “Eli Lilly is not helping its shareholders by buying a product that the marketplace is already abandoning. Consumers don’t want milk produced with artificial hormones, retailers don’t want to sell it and fewer and fewer dairy farmers are using it.”
Food & Water Watch also called on Eli Lilly to discontinue Monsanto’s earlier practices of fighting vehemently to disallow milk labeling which made it clear to consumers that they were purchasing an rBGH-free product. Monsanto has worked very hard on the lobbing and the legal levels to prevent labeling that designate milk products as rBGH-free.