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0809 PD: Will dairy have a permanent asterisk?

Brandon Covey Published on 18 May 2009

If there’s anything baseball has taught us lately, it’s that the general population doesn’t condone performance-enhancing drugs.

Sure some of the other players in the “industry” support them, but for the most part, guys like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez will become an asterisk – a blemish in the pages of their profession for all the fans (consumers) to see.

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Maybe the dairy industry will take this hint. Our fans want good performance too, but also without injections. My family’s dairy used rBST for a while, and I’ve seen how passionately its “users” support the regimen. Most of us in the industry believe milk from cows injected with rBST is not any different composition-wise or from a safety standpoint and will go around and around arguing that point. Furthermore, recent studies have suggested that no long-term sales or competitive advantages resulted from the sale or bST-free milk. Unfortunately, most consumers don’t look at how profitable the dairy industry is, and I don’t think that’s the basis of the true message society is trying to tell us.

Those of us who’ve worked with cattle all our lives appreciate the value of an economic tool. But can we always get the public to accept it? Does a milk cow need an injection to be a milk cow? Does a baseball player need a shot to be a baseball player? I hate to think that someday I’d have to give my son injections so he can keep up in sports. (Maybe some baseball teams will follow the dairy industry’s lead and start giving bonuses to those athletes not getting supplements based on an affidavit the players sign.)

Many dairies say they would go under if it were not for the hormone supplement. It is sad to hear of any farm, especially a family farm, going out of business. But who would have felt sorry for Roger Clemens if he’d told the commission that he needed the injections to help him keep performing to stay in business?

So, is society telling us all to go “organic?” Resisting to use rBST does not mean a resistance to use technology. In the case of rBST, perhaps we tried a new piece of technology, and we found that it worked but was not the way of the future. Should we keep beating our heads on that wall, or can we take a step back and proceed forward in another direction? When our peers call us old-timers for turning our backs on this piece of technology, might we in fact be progressive? Plus, it’s not like there’s a shortage of milk in this country.

And what about other ethical concerns? Several years ago, there were studies on rBST-supplemented cows and increased twinning rates and other reproductive complications. It’s funny how we don’t hear much about that anymore (to either prove or disprove those claims). Just the simple act of giving a shot – not for medication but for enhanced performance – will soon be a bigger target for activists. And we’ve seen the damage they can do. Our enemies are persistent, educated and know how to use the media. It would be nice if we could set our own standards before someone else sets them for us.

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Hey, I still love baseball (milk). And even if I can’t tell which players (cows) are “juicing,” if given the choice, I’d only support those that don’t. Perhaps, for the pro-rBST producers, this could just serve as a suggestion to give some thought to the following question: How would my business/cows handle it if rBST were suddenly taken off the market? Hopefully, those dairies that need it will be able to use rBST for a while longer – especially if it will help them get through tough economic times. As always, God does the rest. PD

Brandon Covey
Regional Manager
Progressive Dairyman

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