The Upstate Niagara Cooperative, effective April 1, no longer sells milk from cows treated with hormones.
The cooperative with about 400 members is among the last in the country to ban rBST, a synthetically produced protein hormone that boosts milk output.
“It became a necessity based on our customers,” Dan Wolf, Upstate Niagara chairman, said about the decision. “It was driven by the marketplace.”
The federal government started allowing the hormone in 1993. It hasn’t been found to be harmful to humans or cows. But grocery stores and bottlers have pressured cooperatives to stop using rBST, said Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications for the National Milk Producers Federation.
“It’s the retailers and bottlers that are pushing this,” Galen said by phone Monday. “It’s not so much from the consumers.”
Cooperatives about five years ago started to ban milk from cows with hormones. Many of those cooperatives then marketed “rBST-free milk,” but Galen said that has lost its niche because so little milk now comes from cows with the hormone.
“Upstate Niagara was one of the last to make the decision,” Galen said. “Today it would be pretty hard to find any in the marketplace.”
The Upstate Niagara board voted in October to stop using rBST. The cooperative gave farmers time to transition their herds. Not all the dairies in the cooperative were using rBST, Wolf said.
He wasn’t sure if farmers would now see a significant drop in milk production. Galen said since cooperatives started banning rBST about five years ago, milk production per cow has held steady.
Milk production per cow nationally actually increased from February 2010 to a year later, going from an average of 1,642 pounds per month to 1,666 in February 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. In New York, the average cow production increased from 1,560 pounds to 1,620 pounds during that time period.
Farmers have credited higher milk production to better genetics, better feed and the “cow comfort” movement, where dairies try to give cows soft bedding and well ventilated barns.