‘CINCINNATI, Ohio – August 1, 2007 – The Kroger Co. (NYSE:KR) announced today it will complete the transition of milk it processes and sells in its stores to a certified rBST-free supply by February 2008.’
This press release says it all. Kroger is no longer going to buy milk from producers that use rbST in their herds.
This is very disappointing from an environmental stewardship perspective. Because supplementing with rbST increases milk production per cow by about 10%, we are able to devote fewer resources to milk production when it is used. Using fewer resources means a smaller environmental footprint on a per gallon of milk basis. And, it does this with no effects to animal or human health.
While rbST is not the solution to all of our environmental and world hunger problems, it is this sort of technological change that is necessary to feed an increasing population and to deal with problems like global warming.
It is Kroger’s duty to respond to consumer preferences. This could backfire in the long term. As consumers discover the health and environmental benefits of modern science and biotechnology on the farm, they will likely become more interested in these products. The massive adoption of zero trans-fat foods is one example. These products could not have been developed without advancements in plant breeding and genetic tools.
Unfortunately, discontinuing the use of rbST may send a signal to consumers that rbST and other beneficial biotechnologies are bad for the environment, and bad for human health. Lack of consumer demand for these life and environment enhancing products may lead to less interest, investment, and less R&D. Even worse, rent seeking businesses and politicians may use this sentiment to build support for increased regulatory scrutiny. The long term effects of this could leave us less prepared to meet future ecological challenges.