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Antibiotics and Hormones in Milk

July 10th, 2007

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Here’s a question that recently showed up in my Inbox:

I heard about a commercial recently that claims that it is illegal to sell milk in Canada that contains antibiotics or hormones and therefore all “regular” milk is antibiotic and hormone free. I for one always thought one of the top things you should go for when buying organic was milk. According to this Q&A that’s a load of *** (yes, I know, it’s on the Natrel site but I find it hard to believe they could flat out lie so blatantly). If someone knows something different let me know. If not, looks like we can save lots of money by sticking with non-organic milk. I’m guessing the same would hold true for other dairy products then????

It’s true!! All (both conventional and organic) milk in Canada is antibiotic and growth hormone free!!!


Canada has strict regulations regarding antibiotic residues in milk. Since cows are prone to infections, antibiotics are given as a treatment; however, the milk from these cows is always discarded. Once the treatment has ended, the cow is subjected to a sufficient ‘withdrawal’ period to ensure that her milk is free of any residues before being reintroduced into the pool. As an extra measure (since farmers can screw up), dairy processors (such as Natrel) are required to test every single load of milk before they can accept it. Basically, the tanker driver provides the milk processor with samples of milk, and they are tested on the spot for antibiotic residues. If the sample is negative, the milk is unloaded, if the sample tests positive, the milk is rejected and the whole tanker is dumped (and the farmer fined..).

Despite popular belief, organic cows ARE also treated with antibiotics, albeit only under emergencies (since it would be cruel to deprive a sick animal of medicine). Similar to conventional milk, organic milk from cows treated with antibiotics is not mixed in with the regular pool until a sufficient ‘withdrawal’ period has passed. The only difference between organic and conventional cows is that the meat from the organic cow (ultimate fate once too old for milking) cannot be sold as organic. (Meaning that all ‘organic’ meats are ‘free’ of antibiotics).

Growth hormones (rBST):

The USA is pretty much the only country in the world still using growth hormones; however, USA organic regulations strictly prohibit the use of growth hormones in all organic animals, so organic milk from the USA will be free growth hormones.

Like most other countries, Canadian regulations strictly prohibit the use of growth hormones in all animals. Thus, both conventional and organic sources of milk are free from growth hormones.

So why buy organic milk?

Reasons to buy organic products vary, and the truly valid ones are for environmental and animal welfare issues. Despite popular belief, organic products are not safer or healthier, in fact, they may actually pose more of a risk to health since many pesticides are prohibited (some pesticides ARE permitted) meaning that harmful microbes can enter our food supply (remember the e-coli spinach? It was organic). It is a common misconception that our supply of conventional produce is contaminated with residues, but the truth is, the residual amounts are so low that there is no health risk, and that these minute residues can easily be removed by simply washing the produce.

As we are becoming more aware of our impact on the environment, I believe that purchasing organic food is a good thing. The main objective of organic farming is to protect the environment by utilizing sustainable methods. As part of these organic practices, all organically farmed animals must be given free range (no cages or pens allowed!), which I believe is a more humane way to treat these animals. As you may or may not be aware, dairy cows are often lined up side by side in the milking parlours, and they are never permitted to roam. After two years or so, their legs usually give out from muscle atrophy (my friend is a dairy farmer).


Finally, I’d like to comment on Natrel and all other large food companies (yes, Kraft is included).. Again… it seems that we live in this age where we believe that big business feeds us lies to make a profit, and that smaller ma’ and pa’ joints are to the only ones to be trusted.. That couldn’t be further from the truth.. Large companies within the food industry have the resources to employ dietitians, food scientists, etc. All of whom have the education and ethical obligation to provide accurate data based on science. These companies cannot afford to ‘lie’ since the cost would be too great, especially since they are under constant scrutiny by both the public and regulators. On the other hand, ma’ and pa’ outfits often do not have the resources to employ skilled educators, and will communicate whatever information they believe to be the truth. Unfortunately, most of the information from these sources is unsubstantiated by scientific evidence, and consequently riddled with false information. Sadly, there are probably more small food companies that intentionally ‘lie’ about their products. Having worked in the food industry for a few years I know that it is a regular practice to ‘make up’ information to sell more product since they know they won’t get caught (and they never seem to).

Unfortunately, many equate the word ‘organic’ with ‘natural’ (many differences) and believe that natural is better.. Again, it really isn’t, but that’s an entirely different topic.

About NutritionGirl

July 10th, 2007

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A Food Scientist by trade, NutritionGirl has experience in both the Research & Development and Regulatory sides of the industry. NutritionGirl strives to dispel the myths and misinformation about food and nutrition in our society.