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Just one thing to make your family healthier: no rBGH in your milk

Monday, September 5, 2011 Leave a Comment

How many of us deal with allergies or asthma in our families?

In my own family, my son and I have seasonal allergies. His are bad enough to trigger asthma attacks. Two doors down, there are severe peanut allergies. Around the block, there are egg, gluten and dairy allergies, plus a few cases of excema.

If it seems like kids today have more allergies than when we were kids, you're right. In fact, since 1996, there has been a 400% increase in allergies.

Allergies, asthma, excema--all of these are a result of substances - from the air, our food, chemicals we use to clean our homes or clothes - that our immune systems perceive as intruders who must be attacked. So what's the intruder? Why are our immune systems going into overdrive?

I recently attended a lunch with Robyn O'Brien, the founder of AllergyKids.com and author of "The Unhealthy Truth: how our food is making us sick and what we can do about it." It got me wondering if the "healthy" food we eat is really all that healthy.

Take milk, that basic building block of the healthy American diet. It's the mainstay of infant and toddler diets. My 5 year old loves his glass of milk, at least 3 a day. When I was pregnant, milk, cheese yogurt or ice cream were sometimes the only things I could stomach.

Then suddenly, with a post-partum thyroid disorder, I discovered I was allergic to dairy. Why would I develop an allergy to dairy when I'd been eating it all my life? Is there some new, foreign substance that my immune system is attacking?

Correlation is not causation, but did you know that in 1996, 1/3 of American dairy cows began to get injections of rBGH, a genetically modified recombinant bovine growth hormone? This hormone keeps the nursing cows lactating for basically their entire adult life (imagine that, moms!). Longer lactation = more profits. Makes sense.

But it also results in sicker cows, with lots of cases of cow mastitis. Ever get that when you were nursing? It's a very painful infection. It requires antibiotics to clear out the pus, both of which get into the milk  (yuck). And it's reasonable to assume that this hormone might be in the milk, too, and might be affecting us in unexpected ways. If you have a little girl, do you want to take the chance of exposing her to hormones that might bring on early puberty? If you have a little boy, do you want to expose him to that?? Do YOU want it?

If you're like me, you might think, "But I don't drink milk." Except in my latte. But I do eat cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream. And Nutella and M&M's and Mac 'n Cheese and baked goods.

It might interest you to know that the use of rBGH has been banned in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and every other industrialized nation except the United States.

I don't know about you, but this information scares me.  I'm also the kind of person who gets paralyzed when overwhelmed with too much information. I can't change our food supply. I can't change the dairy industry.

What can I do?

I can't change my entire family's diet overnight.

But, as Robyn O'Brien says, everyone can do just one thing. As moms, we owe it to our kids to make sure they're not ingesting hormones made in a lab until we know for sure they're safe. If British moms can do it, so can we.

So if you could do just one thing this month to make your family healthier, stop buying any dairy products made with milk containing rBGH. 

So how do you know if your milk has rBGH in it?
  • If it's not labelled as rBGH free, you can assume it's got rBGH.
  • If it's organic, it's rBGH free.
  • If you get your milk from a local dairy, like Royal Crest, ask them. Royal Crest is rBGH free (although not organic).
  • If it's processed food, research it. Yoplait and Dannon listened to consumer demand, others will too.
One of the first things Robyn changed in her house was to stop buying the sugary, bright blue processed yogurts for her kids. She replaced them with white yogurt, and let her kids put sprinkles on top. Hey, it's a start!

What have you done to get your family eating healthier? Share your story in the comments and you could win some prizes from Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt, including
  • A copy of "The Unhealthy Truth"
  • A Stonyfield Farm Yogurt cookbook
  • Coupons for free Stonyfield Farm YoBabies and YoKids Organic Yogurt
  • Coupons for free Stonyfield Farm Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt
Check out what other moms who were at lunch with Robyn have to say:


  • Pix said:  

    Yes! I was raised on a dairy farm and remember many discussions about the use of rBGH around the table. We didn't use it although many of our farming friends did. But Grandpa was wise beyond his years and couldn't stand to see the damage that the hormone did to the cows. I'm thankful that he was careful and cautious. It taught me a lot, and the lesson of making sure I fueled my body with real food has never been forgotten. Great post!
    Pix--Cheese Curds and Kimchi

  • Rachel said:  

    I have been reading a lot of the blog posts on this topic today, and it is frightening. I have developed a post-pregnancy thyroid disorder and was just diagnosed with IBS. My daughter has (so far...fingers crossed) enjoyed excellent health in her three years of life, but I worry about the future. One thing we've done in our family from the get-go is only buy organic milk. We don't always get organic cheese or organic butter, but we always buy organic milk--rGBH free!--and I really think it has made a world of difference. Whole milk is still my daughter's food of choice, probably half of her daily caloric intake, and I want it to be the best choice possible.

  • Lori Lavender Luz said:  

    You explained the allergy/dairy connection so well.

    Great list, too, about reading labels to stay away from rBGH.

    So glad you added your knowledge and perspective to the bloghop!

  • Liz Johnson said:  

    Thank you for this perspective. I too, get overwhelmed and scared and feeling like I need to overhaul everything my kids come in contact with. But I think it's best to start small, create a household "policy" - such as organic, no-rBGH milk - and build from there. we also have a "only from the farmer's market" policy on produce during the summer. And now I'm eyeing all the cleaning products...

  • Sara Jefferson said:  

    Great post! We have a policy in our house that all milk and meats need to be free of hormones and antibiotics. Our produce is organic as often as we can. We stay away from food dyes and anything that has ingredients we can't pronounce.

    I've also overhauled all our cleaning supplies and NO air fresheners, as they contain a horrible cocktail of chemicals.

    When I first started learning about all these, I felt really overwhelmed, too. I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in that. Sometimes it's really angering that we have to work so hard and do so much research just to keep our kids healthy (as compared to places like Europe, where food dyes aren't allowed).

  • glutenfreeforgood said:  

    In Robyn's book she talks about all the research she did regarding rBGH and how she had to actually get up and walk away from her computer once it all started sinking in. She mentions worrying about all the sippy cups she had filled with milk laced with antibiotics and growth hormones. It's scary. Thanks for your wonderful post on this. It's important to get the message out.

  • Sonya said:  

    2011 has been a year of dramatic changes in our home. In 2001 we started eating mostly organic after my youngest was born, but this year we've discovered that the girls and I are super sensitive to gluten & casein as well as my own sensitivities to corn, soy & pork.

    If we avoid those foods (and all their derivatives that are used as fillers) then we feel better than we have in years!

  • liz mcgavran said:  

    For more info about healthy eating and living, go to www.mercola.com. He has a free newsletter and great archives and products. Knowledge is power.