If you're a dairyman or someone who sells feed to a dairyman, you've probably heard about the raging debate over the use of rBSt, technical name for a milk production-enhancing product sold by Monsanto. Many commercial dairymen have discovered that using the product helps increase efficiency. Sometimes it's the difference between profit and loss, depending upon milk prices, some dairymen contend.
The product has been used legally for several years. But suddenly it's a hot topic because some milk processors have announced they won't accept milk from cows fed rBST beginning as early as February. In fact, circulating reports say at least some of these companies are asking producers to sign agreements saying they are not using the product.
Exactly who triggered the drive to curb or eliminate use of this production-enhancing product is unclear. Whenever a finger points one direction, another finger seems to point in another direction. But the truth is that several companies selling milk to consumers want to be able to tell customers that the milk doesn't have rBST in it.
There's just one problem- BST is a natural hormone in dairy cattle. So there is no test to determine if rBST was used or not. There's no way to prove if a producer really quits using it if he says he did, and no way to test milk going to consumers to know if it was used or not.
That's putting tons of dairymen in a bind. While milk prices are relatively high compared to historic price levels, feed prices are also pushing all-time highs. Corn prices are out of sight, and soybean meal prices are likely to go sky-high as soybeans finally hit the teens two weeks ago. Tack on expensive forage prices thanks tot eh widespread drought in Indiana last summer, coupled with the super-late spring freeze, and dairymen aren't stuffing away as much money in the bank as some folks might suspect. Taking away a valuable too that helps them stay competitive in today's tightening economy could be tough on their overall operation.
Some will be faced with signing the document saying they won't use it or not sell milk to their normal outlet, unless those buyers back off soon. Or they will face the moral dilemma of signing it but continuing to use it to protect their business and still earn a profit.
It's a tough dilemma, and one sure to remain hot. In the meantime, the Indiana Board of Animal Health reminds consumers that it does not regulate use of the synthetic hormone. Instead, the decision is left to individual producers, BOAH officials note.