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Does Your Child’s School Milk Contain the Artificial Growth Hormone rBGH?

Posted Jan 13 2010 12:00am

by Jennifer Lance on January 13, 2010 ·

Photo by maveric2003Parents can request hormone-free milk at school

Parents can request hormone-free milk at school

Parents send their children to school to help them develop socially and intellectually; however, their health may be compromised by the food served to them daily in the lunchroom.  School milk is no exception.  Food & Water Watch has successfully campaigned for over a year to give schools a choice to buy hormone-free or organic milk, but does your school know they don’t have to serve rBGH milk?  As a parent, did you know you have the right to request hormone-free milk be served to your child?

Food & Water Watch explains why we should be concerned about hormones in our dairy products:

Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), is a drug that is injected into cows to increase their milk production.  Developed by the agricultural company Monsanto and approved for commercial use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, by 2000 it had become the largest selling pharmaceutical product in the history of the dairy industry.   RBGH has never been approved for commercial use in Canada or the European Union due to concerns about the drug’s impact on animal health.   The artificial hormone’s known side effects include increased udder infections and reproductive problems in cows.  Notably, a growing body of scientific research also suggests a link between drinking rBGH-treated milk and certain types of cancer in humans.

As consumers demand rBGH milk, the hormone industry has responded by trying to outlaw the labeling of products as hormone-free.   Often, consumers have to rely on knowing which companies have pledged to be free fo rBGH when labels are absent.  But what about school milk, including those provided to children on free and reduced meal subsidized plans?

In a USDA memo dated November 12, 2009 on the subject of “Q&As: Milk Substitution for Children with Medical or Special Dietary Needs (Non-Disability)“, it clearly states parents have a choice what kind of milk their child is served at school.

Section 9(a)(2)(B) of the National School Lunch Act does not specify the medical or special dietary needs that are covered by the milk substitution provision. Any reasonable request could be accepted. For example, a request due to a milk allergy, vegan diet, as well as religious, cultural or ethical reasons would be acceptable and could be accommodated. If a request only states that a child does not like milk, the student can be offered flavored milk instead of a milk substitute that meets the requirements of this rule.

All it takes is a written request from a parent or physician.  Unfortunately, schools do not have to comply unless the “milk substitution is necessary due to a disability”, but making such requests sends a message to your children’s school.  Specifically, the USDA explains:

24. May a school serve organic milk or milk with a label indicating it was produced from cows not treated with hormones?
Yes. Schools may routinely offer all students organic milk or milk with a label indicating it was produced from cows not treated with hormones. The requirement is for fluid milk, and milk labeled in this manner would meet the requirement.
25. Must a school honor a request to substitute milk with organic milk or milk with a label indicating it was produced from cows not treated with hormones?
No, the choice to purchase milk labeled in this manner is at the discretion of the school.

15% of US dairies still use growth hormones, and 430 million gallons of milk of are served each year at schools.  There is nothing stopping your school from serving hormone-free milk other than the need for some parental advocacy.

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