Warehouse C
Ingesting Synthetic Hormones
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Big Dairy Farms Pinched By Anti-Hormone Movement


By James Donahue


In the vernacular of the old Vietnam era, the big business of dairy farming in the United States is facing a “Catch 22.”


The farmers with hundreds, if not thousands of milking cows in their herds have been using an artificial hormone rbST to force more milk out of every cow. But an outcry from consumer groups, environmental groups and demands for organic products has been pressuring farmers to stop using chemicals on their animals. And the Ohio Department of Agriculture is considering forcing the labeling of milk products containing the hormone, and a major milk distributor, Dairy Marketing Services, says it will not handle milk with the chemical in it.


This has forced a reaction from dairy farmers who say they are already doing serious pencil pushing to squeeze profit margins from their business. They maintain that the loss of the rbST synthetic hormone in cattle feed will mean a loss of about 15 percent of the milk they produce.


To make up the difference, farmers argue they must get more money for their milk, or else increase the size of their herds. Larger sized herds means more feed, grain, labor and fuel costs.


This writer has looked at this problem from both sides of the fence for many years. I was raised on a farm. While we did not raise dairy cattle, many of our neighbors did and I understand the hard work involved in keeping even a small family-owned operation going. The big industrial sized dairy farms that came along after I left the farm are probably much less efficient, but basically the same kind of operation on a big scale.


As a reporter who covered farm issues for many years, I am also well aware of the skills utilized by dairy farmers to squeeze every penny of profit from their livestock. These guys were not the simple country folk I remembered as a young boy growing up in a farming community. They often were college graduates who utilized advanced mathematics skills on home computers to run their business. They also attended special courses, often offered by the Cooperative Extension Service in their state, to learn ways to squeeze even better profits out of markets that were often squeezing them from every direction.


Farming was never an easy business. In recent years it has become a very competitive and very big business. The more recent entry of skilled dairy farm operators from European countries, establishing farms with thousands of producing dairy cows, heavy demands on land and water resources to maintain these big herds, and the problems of handling the massive amounts of animal waste, has added a whole new dimension to the business of milk production in the United States.


So much for the defense of dairy farmers. We agree that the decision to feed such chemicals as synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals to force larger amounts of product has been the prelude to an environmental disaster. These chemicals are spilling out into the soil, the water supply and our rivers and lakes in the form of animal waste. Consequently humans are ingesting synthetic hormones and all of the other chemicals every time they drink a glass of water.


This is a growing problem that is already affecting the health and well-being of humans all over the world. It is creating problems of reproduction, and first hitting the health of our children who are the weakest among us.


We have no doubt that the spilling of these chemicals in our food, our soil and our water supply also is having some kind of effect on our own health.


Indeed, the State of Ohio is correct in its move to force dairy farmers to stop using synthetic hormones in cattle feed. But we also understand the plight of the farmers who are trying to eke a living on thin profit margins. The solution has to be higher milk prices.