What is rBGH?

The Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is a synthetically produced form of the Bovine Growth Hormone or Somatotropin. Somatotropin is a protein hormone that is produced in the pituitary gland of all vertebrates that also includes cattle. It is also known in some other names such as BST (Bovine Somatotropin) or rBST for the synthetic form produced in laboratories.

Naturally, the BGH reacts with the receptors of the hormones prolactin and placental lactogen which stimulates the mammary tissue of a mature lactating cow in order to produce more milk. Since 1937, scientists have observed that lactating cows injected with BGH increased their milk yields.

Further study of the said hormone enabled the scientists to gain extensive knowledge of the chemical structure, function and activity of BGH in animals. During that same time, the production of BGH was seriously limited as they can only be extracted from the pituitary glands of slaughtered animals.

In the 1990’s the biotech giant, Monsanto made available a synthetically produced BGH derived with the use of recombinant DNA technology. Eventually known as rBGH, it provided the market with ample amounts of the hormone that is primarily used to increase milk yields in cows. When injected in cattle, rBGH help increase milk production and therefore provide dairy farmers with better yields than before.

The rBGH works by preventing the death of mammary cells rather than directly inducing cows to produce more milk. Normally, cows produce milk during a lactation period up to a certain point when the milk production peaks and gradually decreases. This amount of milk produced depends on the count of the milk producing cells found in the udder of cows. The more milk producing cells are found in the udder, the more milk the cows produce.

This cell count usually starts of at a moderate number during the start of the cow’s lactation period, increases during the first stage of the lactation and gradually decreases in number as the lactation period progresses. Once these cells are lost, they do not regenerate up until the next lactation period. The function of the rBGH hormone is to prevent the decrease of mammary cells and therefore prolong the milk productiveness in cows.

But despite this somewhat interesting benefit that the use of rBGH has on milk production, some concerns regarding health safety still persists. There is still quite a debate going on about the supposedly safe use of the hormone not only on cows but on humans as well.

Some studies have shown rBGH to have some serious effects on the health of cows. Use of rBGH in cows has been linked to the increased risk of the animals developing clinical mastitis. Researchers have also noted that cows treated with rBGH may also have a higher incidence of developing lameness or difficulties in mobility on account of injury, defect or a temporary hindrance to function. On human health concerns, tests on rBGH still remain inconclusive.

The concern may largely come from the cows with higher risks of developing mastitis with rBGH use. Mastitis treatment includes the use of certain antibiotics which may lead some people to fear possible antibiotic contamination in milk production.

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