It was 20 years ago that BST officially entered the marketplace. Originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late 1993, its entry was delayed another 90 days when a moratorium was injected into a federal budget reconciliation package. Recalling that unusual move to gain a crucial vote from former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) reminds us of the emotions the topic still generates.
Even though widely divergent views exist on BST, there are a few relatively unquestioned points. Few dispute that the product improves milk production and there still is the fact that BST remains among the most intensely researched animal health products ever approved by FDA.
After two decades, no practical test exists to confirm whether milk was produced by cows supplemented with the product because the same substances can be found in all milk. Rest assured, if a test could have been created, we would have already seen it as countless fluid processors tripped over themselves in the race to differentiate their products as rBST-free in a declining fluid milk category. If only that energy had been placed into more creative marketing efforts. You can bet labeling did not boost sales. Despite all the banter by rBST labeling advocates, the FDA still maintains that "No significant difference has been shown between milk from rBST-treated or non-rBST-treated cows."
In the ensuing decades, the BST story had an additional plot twist. It's rather ironic that greenhouse gases have become one of the latest buzzwords among environmentalists and product marketers alike. However, it's efficiency-enhancing products like BST that actually reduce the carbon footprint required to produce a gallon of milk.
For dairy producers who use it, BST has become another tool in the toolbox to help manage their operations. There is nothing magic about any of the time-tested tools. Nor is there anything magic about BST. It takes good farm management to ensure each tool reaches its full potential.