It’s no secret that technology ranks pretty high on environmental activists’ “no-no” list. All that human progress, quality of life improvements, scientific breakthroughs, and (gasp!) greater efficiency just isn’t “natural.” So we’re not surprised to see that the anti-business “consumer advocacy” campaign against activists’ favorite dairy whipping boy, a production-boosting growth hormone called Recombinant Bovine SomatoTropin (or rBST) is back in full swing. But this time, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)is shaking things up in anti-technology activist circles. In short, the man behind the “rBST-free” curtain has been exposed.
For many years, green activists have been pulling out their cow costumes and telling consumers about the perils of this production-boosting hormone. (It was concocted by scientists in a lab! They’re sneaking it into the food supply!) So it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that this particular technology must be doing some pretty serious damage to the planet…right?
Apparently not. As the PNAS study explains, dairy farmers who supplement their cows with this synthetic version of an all-natural hormone are producing more milk with fewer cows — which translates to a reduced environmental impact:
"Supplementing cows with rbST on an industry-wide scale would improve sustainability and reduce the dairy industry’s contribution to water acidification, algal growth, and global warming," says Judith L. Capper, Cornell post-doctoral researcher, and the lead author of the new paper in PNAS.
"Sustainability is important in agricultural production, with an emphasis placed upon meeting human food requirements while mitigating environmental impact," said Dale Bauman, an author of the study. "This study demonstrates that use of rbST markedly improves the efficiency of milk production, mitigates environmental impact including greenhouse gas emissions and reduces natural resource requirements such as fossil fuel, water and land use."
You read that right: It turns out that using rBST is “greener” than not using it.
As we’ve pointed out before, not even a biochemist can tell the difference between regular and so-called “rBST free” milk. And this week’s study is only the latest drop in the bucket of evidence finding no compelling health, environmental, or animal welfare benefit to buying milk produced the Nineteenth Century way.
Could it be that this green-group cause célèbre is driven by some other concern than protecting the planet? Another motive that trumps the reductions in natural resource requirements and greenhouse gas emissions that rBST can provide? Some other inspiration like, dare we say, an irrational hatred for the Evil Corporations that make biotechnology’s miracles work in the first place?
Relax, hippies. Do some yoga and eat a peppermint flax couscous bran muffin. In 2023 the patent on rBST will expire and it will stop being profitable for anyone — including the University (yes, the University) that earns most of the royalties. So in 15 years you can join the rest of us in a cheer for progress. Until then, a simple “thank you” for helping to reduce farmers’ greenhouse-gas emissions would be nice.