Global warming study, lawsuits add to rbST debate

Those who thought the debate over recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) had cooled, it just got a little warmer. Make that hotter.
On June 30, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences web site published a Cornell University study, “The Environmental Impact of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) use in Dairy Production,” which demonstrated that use of rbST reduces the carbon footprint of milk production.
The study’s authors include Cornell University professor Dale Bauman, post-doctoral research associates Jude Capper and Euridice Castandena-Gutierrez, and Monsanto scientist and Cornell alumnus Roger Cady. Citing a growing world population and increased food needs – combined with mitigating agriculture’s environmental impact – they said rbST markedly improved the efficiency of milk production while addressing “eutrophication and acidification, greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use.” The most sustainable way to increase U.S. milk production is to improve production per cow, they wrote.
The study design included three models to predict the environmental impact of using rbST: one examining the impact of increased productive efficiency of individual cows in a producer’s herd; one examining industry-scale adoption of rbST-supplemented cows; and a third examining the environmental impact of achieving future increases in the future U.S. milk supply required to meet projected population growth and recently published USDA Dietary Guidelines using conventional, conventional with rbST, or organic production systems.
“The total reduction in the carbon footprint conferred by rbST supplementation of 1 million dairy cows is equivalent to removing approximately 400,000 family cars from the road, or planting 300 million trees,” they said. Further energy use reductions would result from decreases the energy needed from fossil fuels and electricity required for cropping and milk production.
The authors reported that 8% fewer cows are needed in an rbST-supplemented population, whereas organic production systems would require a 25% increase in cow numbers to meet future production targets.
For more information, including abstracts and summaries of the study, visit www.ansci.cornell.edu/bauman/envir_impact.

An article, authored by Cornell researchers Mike Van Amburgh, Judith Capper and Bauman – published in the June 2008 issue of Northeast DairyBusiness and July 2008 issue of Midwest DairyBusiness – said technologies that have helped boost milk production per cow reduced U.S. dairy’s carbon footprint per pound of milk produced nearly 70% in six decades. In 1944, the calculated carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents was 10 lbs. per 1 lb. of milk produced. In 2006, the calculated CO2 production was 3 lbs. per 1 lb. of milk.

On the same day the Cornell study was published, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and Organic Trade Association (OTA) filed similar and simultaneous lawsuits against the State of Ohio over its dairy product labeling law. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, challenges regulations regarding the labeling of dairy products from cows that have not been supplemented with rbST. In the lawsuits, both OTA and IDFA said the Ohio rule interferes with the First Amendment right of its members to communicate truthful information to Ohioans, and with interstate commerce.
The complaint is the result of a dairy product labeling regulation that went into effect on May 22, with a 120-day implementation period.
Peggy Armstrong, IDFA communications director, said Ohio’s labeling regulation is cumbersome – especially for national and regional dairy manufacturers. She said the rule goes beyond the labeling guidance offered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is significantly different than most other states. As a result, dairy companies will have to create special labels just for Ohio, or be forced to drop information about rbST on package labels.
For more information, visit www.ota.com/news/breaking/ohiodairy.html or www.idfa.org.

The label debate didn’t end there. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said it sent a letter to FDA, asking the agency to review guidance it issued in 1994 pertaining to milk and dairy products from cows not treated with rbST.
In the announcement, AFBF said all of the top U.S. grocery store chains restrict the sale of milk from cows supplemented with rBST. The milk – often labeled as “rbST-free” or “hormone-free,” typically sells at a premium compared to milk that is not labeled. As a result, AFBF told FDA, producers who sell to markets restricting the use of rbST are seeing lower production and profits during a time of record-high feed and fuel prices.

An organization born out of the rbST debate, the American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT), will hold a meeting, “The Power of Producer Advocacy: An AFACT Summit,” July 23-24, in Chicago. In addition, an “AFACT Advocate” training session is being planned in Pennsylvania, July 10. For more information, visit www.itisafact.org.

And finally, the American Farm Bureau’s quarterly “Marketbasket Survey” of retail milk prices found the average price for a half-gallon of regular whole milk, at $2.38, was down 2¢ from the first quarter of 2008. The average price for 1 gallon of regular whole milk was $3.88, up 7¢ from the previous quarter.
The average price for a half-gallon of “rbST-free” milk was $3.34, up 4¢ from the first quarter of 2008, and 96¢ higher (40%) than the current price for a half-gallon of regular milk. On a per hundredweight basis, the half gallon of “rbST-free” milk was marked up $24.00/cwt. compared to the regular milk, an increase of $1.50/cwt. from the previous quarter.
The average price for a half-gallon of organic milk was $3.67, up 4¢ compared to the previous quarter, and 50% more than a half-gallon of regular milk.

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