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Dirty Dairy: What You Need to Know About Milk

May 12, 2011 •  61 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien

The journal Pediatrics that 15% of American girls are expected to begin puberty by the age of 7 (with the number closer to 25% for African American girls), perhaps it’s time for a little history lesson about the introduction of artificial growth hormones into the American milk supply in 1994.

For the past 16+ years, much of our nation’s milk has come from cows injected with a genetically engineered growth hormone. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone. Since it was never labeled, most of us had no idea that this hormone was introduced into our dairy in 1994. The hormone has two interchangeable names: recombinant bovine somatropine (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

RBGH has dominated the milk market almost since the FDA approved it in 1993. It was the first genetically engineered product ever brought to market. And the Associated Press (AP), the New York Times and the rest of the media have called it “controversial” (the AP headline actually referred to it as “a bumper crop of controversy”).

So what is rBGH anyway? Although the product is made in a lab, it’s designed to mimic a hormone that’s naturally produced in a cow’s pituitary glands. It’s injected into cows every two weeks to boost their hormonal activity, causing them to produce an additional 10 to 15 percent more milk, or about one extra gallon each day. And within the first four years of its introduction in 1994, about one-third of the nation’s cows were in herds being treated with this growth hormone.

If all you knew about rBGH and this hormone was that it increased milk production, you might think it was a good thing. Why shouldn’t we use every means at our disposal to boost the supply of such a nutritious food?

Well, besides increasing milk production, rBGH apparently does a few other things, too.

First of all, the product seems to be hazardous to the cows. The package itself warns of such bovine problems as “increases in cystic ovaries and disorders of the uterus,” “decreases in gestation length and birthweight of calves,” and “increased risk of clinical mastitis.” Mastitis is a painful type of udder infection that causes cows to pump out bacteria and pus along with milk, requiring treatment with antibiotics and other meds that can end up in the milk.

When I first read this, I had to stop and walk away from the computer for a few minutes. How many bottles and sippy cups had I filled with this milk? Why hadn’t I known about rBGH when I was pouring countless bowls of cereal for my children? I shuddered at the thought that along with the milk, I had also been giving them doses of growth hormone and antibiotics, not to mention potentially exposing them to cow bacteria and udder pus. How had I not known about this Dirty Dairy?

Want some antiobiotics with that growth hormone?

On top of that, and is often cited in the press (most recently by Laurie David), 80% of antibiotics are now used on our livestock here in the U.S. And overexposure to antibiotics tends to kill off the friendly bacteria in our intestines—bacteria that we need for our digestion and immune system. Many doctors believe that too many antibiotics at too early an age is part of the reason that kids are more likely to be allergic: their immune systems aren’t being given the “microbial environment” that they require. Wonder how many “extra” antibiotics our kids are getting in their milk, cheese, and yogurt? Maybe it’s not just about those hand sanitizers.

And then on top of that, allergies are the body’s response to proteins that it considers “toxic invaders,” and that genetically engineered proteins may spark new allergies. According to CNN and a recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Immunology, milk allergy is now the most common food allergy in the U.S., having risen to the number-one position in the last 10 years. It’s even starting to affect the sale of milk in schools. Might rBGH be a factor in that increase? We wouldn’t have a clue. No human studies were conducted.

But let’s get back to the cows, because rBGH can hurt them in several more ways. The label also warns of possible increase in digestive disorders, including diarrhea; increased numbers of lacerations on the cows’ hocks (shins); and a higher rate of subclinical mastitis.

Bad enough when dairy cows get visibly sick, because then they’re treated with antibiotics that end up in our milk. But what about the cows who are getting sick at a subclinical level—a level so subtle that farmers don’t notice it? Think of the bacteria and pus pouring out of those inflamed udders—infections that aren’t even being treated! How does drinking that milk affect us, our kids, and our babies in the womb?

Those are just the problems acknowledged on the rBGH product label. Another concern is that the extra hormones drain the cows’ bones of calcium, so that they tend to become lame. The Canadian federal health agency actually found that “the risk of clinical lameness was increased approximately 50 percent” in cows that were given rBGH. Partly as a result, Canada has banned the product, concluding that it “presents a sufficient and unacceptable threat to the safety of dairy cows.”

rBGH is banned in other developed countries but not in the U.S.

Canada isn’t the only country to bar rBGH. The genetically altered hormone has also been banned in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, the U.N. agency that sets food safety standards, Codex Alimentarius, has refused to approve rGBH not just once but twice.

Farmers themselves have noticed problems with the product. In addition to the expense of the drug itself, rBGH results in higher feed bills, higher vet bills due to increased antibiotic use, and more cows removed from the herd due to illness or low productivity. One study found that 25 to 40 percent of dairy farmers who tried rBGH soon gave it up because it wasn’t profitable enough to justify the damage to their cows. Other farmers have said that they see how hard the product is on cows, and they don’t want to subject their animals to such treatment.

Okay, so that’s why rBGH hurts cows. But I’m way more concerned about us and our kids. How does having a genetically altered hormone in our milk supply affect us?

Health concerns include possible link to cancer

As early as 1998, an article in the Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, reported that women with even relatively small increases of a hormone known as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) were up to seven times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer.

And guess what? According to a January 1996 report in the International Journal of Health Services, rBGH milk has up to 10 times the IGF-1 levels of natural milk. More recent studies have put the figure even higher, at something like 20-fold.

Now stop and think about that for a minute, while correlation is not causation, breast cancer used to be something that women got later in life. Premenopausal breast cancer was so rare that when young women presented their physicians with breast cancer symptoms, the doctors often failed to diagnose it, simply because it was so unlikely that an “older women’s disease” would be found among young women.

But according to the Young Survival Coalition, one in 229 women between the ages of 30 and 39 will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the next ten years. Why are all these young women now getting breast cancer? And what about the effects of IGF-1-laden milk on older women, who are already at greater risk for breast cancer?

In case you think that the rising cancer rates have something to do with genetics, stop and think again. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, 1 in 8 women now have breast cancer. But only 10 percent of those cases can be linked to genetics. In other words, 90 percent of breast cancers being diagnosed today are being triggered by factors in our environment.

How did this happen?

Now if you’re like me, your next question probably is, So, if we know all of this, how did this hormone find its way into our dairy products? How did our government agencies, responsible for ensuring the safety of our food, allow the use of this growth hormone and the sale of IGF-1-laden milk? Why was rBGH not used in Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but used so freely right here in our own United States?

Well, the year before the FDA approved the first genetically engineered protein, it said, “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” But at the same time, the corporate communication’s director of the company introducing rBGH said, ” We should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.’s job.”

You read that right. It’s kind of a “Who’s on first?” routine. Didn’t we learn anything from the tobacco industry?

So with the jury still out on this one, no long-term human trials ever conducted, a self-regulated industry whose “interest is in selling as much of it as possible,” the increasing rates of antibiotics used on our livestock (not to mention the increasing rates of early puberty and cancer), and the stunning fact that this synthetic growth hormone was never approved for use in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all 27 countries in Europe, maybe it’s time we start to exercise a little bit of precaution here in the U.S., too.

How to Opt-Out of rBGH

Thankfully, we can opt out of this experiment and look for milk labeled “organic” or “rBGH-free”— since by law, these types of milk are not allowed to contain rBGH, a genetically engineered product that was never allowed into the milk, cheese, ice creams and other dairy products in other developed countries. And you can find this milk in Wal-Mart, Costco & Sam’s.

And while correlation is not causation, with the American Cancer Society telling us that 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women are expected to get cancer in their lifetimes and the Centers for Disease Control reporting that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15, a precautionary move like this one just might be what the doctors ordered (at least that’s what they did in all 27 countries in Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Japan).

Written by Robyn O’Brien with excerpts from The Unhealthy Truth

How To: Read Produce Stickers

May 9, 2011 •  3 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Sophie Uliano of GorgeouslyGreen.com as seen on My Gloss

Those really annoying little stickers that you have to peel off your apples should be paid attention to, as they have a code on them, which tells you whether or not they are organic or genetically modified. With all the recent business about whether or not we should know if our food is genetically modified or not – hello…OF COURSE we have a right to know!! – it’s useful to at least be able to de-code produce stickers.

All you need to know is that every produce item that’s sold in a grocery store comes with a 4-digit PLU (price look-up) code on the sticker. Some produce items have an extra digit added to the beginning – a number 8 or a number 9. 8 means that it is genetically modified, 9 means that it is organic.

Here’s how I remember:

3 or 4 is a BORE

8 – I HATE

9 is FINE

So the next time you go grocery shopping check out the stickers, especially in stores like Whole Foods, which purport to carry everything organic, but when you start looking at those stickers, you’ll realize that you have to sometimes hunt long and hard to find digits beginning with a #9.

Finally, here’s a quick reminder of the produce items that you really do need to buy organic (because of pesticide exposure), listed in descending order of importance:

1. Strawberries (and all berries)

2. Peaches

3. Nectarines

4. Pears

5. Apples

6. Celery

7. Sweet Bell Peppers

8. Potatoes

9. Spinach

10. Lettuce

Sophie Uliano is a passionate environmentalist who has developed an earth-friendly lifestyle that appeals to women who don’t want to compromise their glamour and style. She is the New York Times Best Selling author of “Gorgeously Green”, “The Gorgeously Green Diet,” and the newly released “Do It Gorgeously Gloss How To: Read Produce Stickers.”

Read more amazing tips from Sophie at GorgeouslyGreen.com

How to Read Meat Labels

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 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Michelle Stern, author of What’s Cooking with Kids

First thing’s first – let’s not confuse Natural with Organic.

We’d hope that naturally produced foods were organic, but officially that is not so. We talked about natural products with chicken above. But what does Organic Food Production mean?

The USDA defines the national organic program as one that “is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

Organic meat is meat that is raised according to the National Organic Standards which means that:

  • All ingredients must be 100% organically produced. No chemicals were used, unless the animal needs to be treated. That animal must, by law, be sold to the conventional food market and never be labeled as organic.
  • 100% organic feed is required (the food was produced with no herbicides, pesticides, or petroleum based fertilizers)
  • No added growth hormones are allowed
  • No genetically modified feeds are allowed
  • No animal by-products of any form allowed in feed
  • No antibiotics are allowed. If antibiotics are used to treat a sick animal, then that animal is marketed through conventional channels and is not sold as organic.
  • Restrictions on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers
  • No genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation or sewage sludge for fertilization
  • No synthetic chemicals, artificial preservatives or harmful additives such as sodium nitrite allowed in processing
  • Annual inspection of producers and processors required for maintaining certification
  • Third party assessment required

While some people may shy away from buying organic because of a “crunchy or hippy” stigma, there are a few key points to remember: When chemicals are used in farming to control insects and weeds, they leach into the soil, air, water and into the farmers growing the food. Organic farming protects growers, food consumers, and the physical environment from any such chemicals. This provides an immediate benefit and a long-term one. And it is clear from our obese nation that people are not typically thinking long-term…and we should.

Organic foods tend to cost more than conventional foods because they meet stricter guidelines and undergo testing and evaluation. They tend to be more labor intensive, because farmers do not take chemical shortcuts. But the overall cost reflects healthier animals, plants, farmers, and most likely consumers. If the long-term costs of health care and environmental clean-up were factored into “cheap” factory meats, it is likely that they would actually cost more than their organic counterparts.

The big picture:

  1. Know who grows your food, or at least find a vendor at your local farmer’s market who can tell you about how their animals were raised and what they ate.
  2. If you can’t know your producer, the next best choice is to look for these labels: Certified Organic AND 100% Pasture Fed and Finished

Michelle Stern is the owner of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified green mobile cooking school for children, and author of The Whole Family Cookbook – Celebrating the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods. To learn more about meat labels and What’s Cooking With Kids please visit, Michelle’s site.

“When the Good Lord was Creating Mothers…..”

May 8, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Erma Bombeck as seen on Paulo Coelho’s Blog

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into his sixth day of “overtime” when an angel appeared and said:

“You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And the Lord said, “Have you read the specs on this order?

* She has to be completely washable, but not plastic;
* Have 180 movable parts… all replaceable;
* Run on black coffee and leftovers;
* Have a lap that disappears when she stands up;
* A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair;
* And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands… no way.”

“It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

“That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded.

“One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ’What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows.

“Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know.

“And of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, ’I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

“Lord,” said the angel, touching His sleeve gently, “Go to bed. Tomorrow…”

“I can’t,” said the Lord, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick

“…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger

“… and can get a nine-year-old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

“But she’s tough!” said the Lord excitedly. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

“Can she think?”

“Not only can she think, but she can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.

“There’s a leak,” she said. “I told You were trying to push too much into this model.”

“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

And the Mother was created – a work of genius.

US Version of Kraft Mac and Cheese versus UK Version

May 3, 2011 •  25 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien

As we are quickly learning, other countries have chosen not to allow things like artificial growth hormones, food dyes derived from petrochemicals and genetically engineered ingredients into their food supplies – particularly in the foods fed to children.

And in response to this demand, especially the European Union’s labeling regulations on genetically modified food, many American food manufacturers now create two versions of their product, one for the US and a “cleaner” version for the moms, dads and kids in the 27 countries in Europe, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the U.K.

So how different could those two versions be, you ask? After all, “food is food”, right?

Well, let’s take a look at one of our staples, macaroni and cheese:

U.S. Version of Kraft Mac & Cheese:

ENRICHED MACARONI PRODUCT (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, FERROUS SULFATE [IRON], THIAMIN MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), CHEESE SAUCE MIX (WHEY, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, CHEDDAR CHEESE [MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES], GRANULAR CHEESE [MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES], SALT, CALCIUM CARBONATE, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF PARMESAN CHEESE [PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES, DRIED BUTTERMILK, SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE, BLUE CHEESE [MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES], SODIUM PHOSPHATE, MEDIUM CHAIN TRIGLYCERIDES, CREAM, CITRIC ACID, LACTIC ACID, ENZYMES, YELLOW 5, YELLOW 6).

U.K. Version of Kraft Mac & Cheese:

Macaroni (Durum Wheat Semolina), Cheese (10%), Whey Powder (from milk), Lactose, Salt, Emulsifying Salts (E339, E341), Colours (Paprika Extract, Beta-Carotene)

Given that Kraft’s latest ad campaign invites us to “Bring Back the Fun”, while we’re at it, how about they bring back products that don’t contain ingredients that have been shown to cause things like hyperactivity, cancer and allergies? You know, products like their UK version of mac and cheese that don’t contain the artificial dyes like the ones seen on these kids’ tongues?

Wouldn’t that be fun?