rbST Safety Around the World

Dr. Normand St-Pierre, Dairy Management Specialist, The Ohio State University (top of page)


  • rbST has not been legislatively banned in any country because of human safety concerns.
  • Currently, rbST is registered for commercial sale in 20 countries. In addition, 56 countries have confirmed that rbST is safe and pose no human safety threats.
  • The current legislation does not allow the use of rbST within European Union (EU) member countries, but it allows imports of milk and dairy products from rbST animals into the EU.


  • Technically speaking, no country has a regulatory ban on rbST. Registration of rbST for commercial use has simply not been completed in many countries. Some have imposed a legislative ban.
  • No country has banned the importation of milk or milk products from the U.S. or from any of the countries where rbST has been approved and registered. Milk from cows supplemented with rbST can be exported anywhere in the world (U.S. Dairy Export Council).
  • There are 20 countries that have a current registration of rbST for commercial sale. Chile is the most recent country to grant registration in 2006.
  • There are 56 countries that have confirmed that rbST is safe and does not threaten the human food chain; these include Canada and most countries members of the EU.
  • Although there are countries in which rbST has not received registration for commercial sale, the process is generally still open. In some countries, however, the process has been suspended or blocked (banned) through a legislative ban, mostly for political and economic reasons.
  • The list of national and international scientific/medical/health/government organizations that have confirmed the human safety of milk and meat products from cows supplemented with rbST is very lengthy and include (not an exhaustive list):

    American Cancer Society; American Council on Science and Health; American Dietetic Association (ADA); American Medical Association (AMA); Canadian Animal Health Institute; Canadian Dietetic Association; Canadian Institute of Biotechnology; Canadian Medical Association; Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres; Canadian Pediatric Society; Children's Nutrition Research Center; Baylor College of Medicine; Council on Agricultural Science & Technology; European Union's Committee for Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP); Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Food and Nutrition Science Alliance; Food Marketing Institute; Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA); Health Canada; Institute of Food Technologists (IFT); International Dairy Food Association (IDFA); Joint FAO and WHO (World Health Organization), Expert Committee on Food Additive (JECFA); National American Wholesale Grocers' Association; National Dairy Council; National Institute of Health (NIH); Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons; The American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation; The Ohio State University - College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Toronto Biotechnology Initiative; University of California - Berkely; University of California - Davis; U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA); U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Response to Citizen Petition on bST; U.S. Dairy Export Council; U.S. Surgeon General Office

Some have erroneously stated that "Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations main food safety body, TWICE decided it could not endorse the safety of rBGH for human health". This statement is incorrect. The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines, and related texts, such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purposes of this Programme are protecting the health of the consumers, ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations. The FAO/WHO has stated very clearly its position regarding the human safety of rbST:

After examining new evidence, an FAO/WHO independent scientific committee has reconfirmed that the treating of cows with the hormone bovine somatotropins (sic), known as BST, to increase milk production is safe. The Committee concluded that there are no food safety or health concerns related to BST residues in products such as milk and meat from treated animals. (http://www.fao.org/news/1998/980301-e.htm)

The Codex Alimentarius never did question the human safety of rbST. Twice it failed to reach a consensus regarding maximum residue limits (MRL) for products from rbST supplemented animals. During its 22nd session, the commission decided to suspend the consideration of the adoption of MRL for bovine somatotropin. The Chairperson of the Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods reported that the Fiftieth Meeting of JECFA had re-evaluated bST and that the previous MRL "not specified" for bST were confirmed when the substance was used in accordance with good veterinary practice. The Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods, however, had been unable to reach a consensus on the adoption of the MRL because (1) some argued that MRL were unjustified based on JECFA 's finding, and (2) due to the lack of defined methods of analysis.

Statements such as "European nations and Canada have banned rbGH to protect citizens from IGF-I hazards" are grossly incorrect. In 1999, the Council of the European Union (a legislative body) decided to definitely ban the possible use of bovine somatotropin (rbST) in the EU. In support of its ban, it invoked animal welfare reasons. Prior to that decision, the European legislators had invoked different reasons, especially the impact on the European dairy policy, with varying success. Concerns over public safety were always cleared by the competent scientific committee, the Committee of Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP). In other instances, European Courts found concerns to be unfounded. Despite the scientific finding of safety to human and public health, which should have led to the establishment of a MRL, the EU legislative body decided to ban rbST. The current legislation does not allow the use of rbST within EU member countries, but it allows imports of milk and dairy products from rbST animals into the EU. If consumer safety was a concern, it would be hard to follow the logic of an approach that considers a product unsafe for consumers in the EU if it is administered within the EU, but safe if it comes from animals treated in other countries.

Adapted from "Bovine Somatotropin Safety around the World" by Dr. Terry Etherton, The Pennsylvania State University.