Ask us about the milk you drink!

December 18, 2017

Ask us about the milk you drink!

Recently, a group of dietetic interns from Northern Illinois University were given the opportunity to tour Phil Borgic’s pig farm and Mitchell Dairy Farm to see the first step in the food production process for themselves. They learned about the science behind livestock farming and asked their own questions about how a farmer's choices affect food safety. Here is what they learned:

As future Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, it is our job to provide safe and effective recommendations to the public, in efforts to improve the overall health of Americans. The consumption of dairy seems to be a hot topic in the field of nutrition right now. Dairy products contain all 9 essential amino acids required for your diet, and contain 8 g of protein per cup. Dairy is also a good source of vitamin D and calcium, which are vital nutrients for bone health. These facts support the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recommendation to have 3 servings of non-, low-fat dairy per day. However, the media has challenged us regarding this recommendation. Comments commonly made are “I heard that the milk we drink is pumped full of hormones that will make us gain weight,” and “Did you know that cows repeatedly get antibiotics when they are sick so that the farmers can maintain their supply of milk?” Visiting the Mitchell Dairy and Grain LLC farm provided us both with the insight to respond to these comments and shed some light on what is really going on!

So let’s talk about antibiotics: First and foremost, each batch of milk pumped from the cows is tested for antibiotic residues by the FDA before it can be sold to the public. Even if a small amount of antibiotic residues are found, that farmer has to dump the entire batch of milk. We asked Mr. Mitchell to estimate about how much this would cost him if the situation happened to him. He calculated the financial loss to be about $5,000! So, overall, there is a very big incentive for farmers to practice proper handling and shipping of their milk products. Additionally, all the cows that do need antibiotics (hey, we all get sick right!?) are marked with a red tag and are monitored by their veterinarian. These cows are not allowed to provide milk for human consumption until they are healthy and off antibiotics for a set period of time based on the strength of the needed antibiotic.

Now to address the daunting conversation about hormones. Mr. Mitchell mentioned that several studies have been done looking at the effects of milk from cows that are injected with growth hormones (rGBH) and those who are not, and essentially found no difference between the composition and quality of milk provided. We also discussed the fact that humans do not contain the receptor needed for this hormone to act in our bodies. Additionally, this hormone is a protein, and when injected, will naturally be denatured or broken down, thus altering its ability to function normally. Despite this information, Mitchell Dairy farm employees informed us that the use of hormones have been banned in almost all Illinois coops for years. That said, the milk that you drink likely will not come from cows who have been treated with hormones.

So, now what do you think? Before choosing to listen and agree with what the media says, we challenge you to get the facts first – and we hope you rely on RD’s in the future to help answer the tough questions. As the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” In the words of J. Michael Stracynski, “Understanding is a three-edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth.”

NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY DIETETIC INTERNS 

Ashleigh Collins and Dana Sivak

In September 2017, a group of Dietetic Interns from NIU toured a local dairy farm in Winnebago, IL and a pig farm in Nokomis, IL to learn more about how food is produced and what that means for food safety. After the tours, they shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms.

 

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