Acton Institute Powerblog

Miller on the Milk Wars

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Henry I. Miller, a doctor and fellow at the Hoover Institution, author of The Frankenfood Myth, weighs in on the milks wars over the artificial hormone rBST.

In “Don’t Cry Over rBST Milk,” Miller writes, “Bad-faith efforts by biotechnology opponents to portray rBST as untested or harmful, and to discourage its use, keep society from taking full advantage of a safe and useful product.”

Whether or not scientific studies show that the use of rBST is as safe as not using it, I think it is bad faith to say that milk consumers should not be able to buy rBST-free milk if they so choose.

So, Miller writes, “Some milk suppliers and food stores have increased the price of milk labeled ‘rBST-free,’ even though it is indistinguishable from supplemented milk, and offer only this more expensive option, pre-empting consumers’ ability to choose on the basis of price.” Try reading that paragraph while drinking a glass of cool milk and not do a spit take, or laugh so hard that some of it comes out your nose.

The fact is, consumers can freely choose to patronize any one of the millions of markets that don’t carry rBST-free milk (much less carry it exclusively). If rBST is so safe and so effective, why not let it compete in the marketplace against non-rBST milk? Let milk companies proudly use the label, “A Proud Product of rBST-Supplemented Cows,” and see how they do.

I’m not in favor of banning rBST. But neither am I in favor of banning non-rBST labeling. And it’s the latter impulse that is driving so much of the lobbying in the milk wars.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Anonymous

    I agree. Consumers should have a choice. If people lose the right to chose we have lost much of what it means to be free.

    However, federal law states that false and misleading claims in advertising are unacceptable. The current “rBST Free” labels are most certainly false and misleading. They are intentionally designed to prey on the fears of consumers who do not understand the science behind technology like rBST. Unfortunately, the average concumer does not understand the science nor will they make the effort to. They will simply pay the extra 10-50 cents to make themselves feel better. It may not sound like much but if everyone in the country who drinks milk pays an extra quarter for every gallon of milk consider the money that the retailers will be raking in. A very simple calculation: say only 1,000,000 households drink milk, they drink only one gallon a week, and they are paying a 25 cent premium based on false claims. That adds up to $13 million available for retailers to dig into a year. And these numbers are probably huge underestimates.

    In addition, if consumers are allowed to chose based on a lie and thus eliminate the choice of the dairy farmer in his purchases based on science, how can this be right?

  • How are these claims “false”? There is no rBST added to these particular cows. That’s all the labeling claims. See [url=]here [/url]and [url=]here[/url] for some examples.

    It should up to the consumer to decide if and how that information is relevant, and if they [b]want[/b] to pay more for peace of mind, then so be it. Maybe 88 or 89 octane fuels make no substantive difference for most cars compared to 86 or 87 grade, but if people want to use “better” gasoline, they are free to pay more. Why not with milk?

    Maybe the higher quality of rBST milk is purely subjective…but why shouldn’t consumers be able to find out easily if the milk is rBST-free?

  • Tim Slade

    This issue is virtually dead — it’s been around for nearly two decades, and the result is rather settled.
    The vast majority of milk is marketed without labels, and usually as the (conventional) store brand. For niches, there is branded milk, Land-O-Lakes for instance, rBST free, and organic.
    Those who produce organic do get a higher usual price, but tend not to make as much net because the organic feeds tend to be more costly.
    Dr. Miller is scientifically correct, but marketing varies.
    Where one can’t get ordinary milk are only at places where it should not come as a surprise.