Question: The milk I buy at the grocery store has a label claiming it’s free of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. How do I know that milk is safe?

Milk is the one of the most rigorously tested, regulated and controlled foods in the United States, next to seafood, says Stephanie Clark, an associate professor and dairy food scientist at Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames.

Each tanker truck of milk that arrives at a dairy-processing plant is tested for safety to ensure it’s free of antibiotics or chemicals, Clark says.

For example, at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely, the milk is tested on site to ensure it’s free of pesticides and antibiotics, as required by federal law, says Josie Rozum, marketing manager for Dan and Debbie’s Creamery.

State law also requires that all milk sold in Iowa must be pasteurized to protect against bacteria that could cause food-borne illness, she adds.

“The dairy industry is one of the most highly regulated industries,” Rozum says. “So every time we bring milk over (from our farm), we have a lab here that we test our milk for various things. It must pass that test for us to be able to utilize it.”

Dan and Debbie’s Creamery is also inspected monthly by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, in addition to quarterly and random visits from state and federal plant and pasteurizer inspectors.

As for hormones in milk, in actuality, all milk contains natural hormones, even milk that’s labeled organic or rBST-free, Clark says.

In fact, all foods contain hormones, Clark explains. Hormones are naturally produced by all organisms, both plants and animals, to regulate life functions such as growth and metabolism.

And some plant-based foods, including peanuts and soy, have more hormones than milk. Check out this infographic from Best Food Facts to see how the hormones in milk stack up to common foods.

Our bodies also can’t recognize or use the hormones from cow’s milk, Clark explains.

Hormones are species-specific, meaning that humans don’t have the necessary “receptors” to recognize bovine (cow) hormones, Clark says.

“The fact of the matter is that all milk is safe and wholesome,” Clark says. “Families should feel good about feeding milk to their children and themselves.”

For more information about common dairy myths, visit the Best Food Facts website.

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