[Pharmwaste] Milk sold in PA can't be labeled "hormone-free"

Bowling, Patrick gbowling at state.pa.us
Thu Nov 15 10:24:33 EST 2007

Apparently, a few other states are considering this, too.  At least one dairy chain in PA that does not use artificial growth hormones and wanted to advertise that was protesting this at the capitol this week.

Milk can't be labeled 'hormone-free'
Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 11/14/2007 09:58:39 AM EST
Original URL: http://www.eveningsun.com/localnews/ci_7459456

HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania is stopping dairies from stamping milk containers with hormone-free labels in a precedent-setting decision being closely watched by the industry. 

Synthetic hormones have been used to improve milk production in cows for more than a decade. The chemical has not been detected in milk, so there is no way to test for its use, but a growing number of retailers have been selling and promoting hormone-free products in response to consumer demand. 

State Agriculture Secretary Dennis C. Wolff said advertising one brand of milk as free from artificial hormones implies that competitors' milk is not safe, and often comes with what he said is an unjustified higher price. 

"It's kind of like a nuclear arms race," Wolff said. "One dairy does it and the next tries to outdo them. It's absolutely crazy." 

Agricultural regulators in at least two other states, New Jersey and Ohio, are considering following suit, the latest battle in a long-standing dispute over whether injecting cows with bovine growth hormone affects milk. 

Effective Jan. 1, dairies selling milk in Pennsylvania, the nation's fifth-largest dairy state, will be banned from advertising on milk containers that their product comes from cows that have never been treated with rBST, or recombinant bovine somatotropin. 

The product, sold by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. under the brand name Posilac, is the country's largest-selling dairy pharmaceutical. 

It has been approved for use in the U.S. since 1994, although safety concerns have spurred an increase in rBST-free product sales. The hormone is banned in the European Union, Canada, Australia and Japan, largely out of concern that it may be harmful to herd health. 

Monsanto spokesman Michael Doane said the Pennsylvania labeling restriction is "a landmark decision." 

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission denied a request from Monsanto that it act against a half-dozen dairies for advertising milk as being free from synthetic hormones, but did warn a few small businesses about making unfounded claims against rBST. 

The hormone-free label "implies to consumers, who may or may not be informed on these issues, that there's a health-and-safety difference between these two milks, that there's 'good' milk and 'bad' milk, and we know that's not the case," Doane said. 

Rick North of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, a leading critic of the artificial growth hormone, called the Pennsylvania rules "censorship, pure and simple." 

"This is a clear example of Monsanto's influence and what they're trying to do all over the country," he said. "They're getting clobbered in the marketplace by consumers everywhere wanting (synthetic-hormone)-free products." 

Acting on a recommendation of an advisory panel, the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department has notified 16 dairies in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts that their labels were false or misleading and had to be changed by the end of December. 

The order also bars other kinds of "absence labeling," including claims that milk is free of pesticides or antibiotics, which all milk normally is. 

"There's absolutely no way to certify whether the milk is from cattle treated or not treated" with rBST, Wolff said. "Some of the dairies that have enforced this, it's absolutely the honor system." 

Rutter's Dairy Inc., a central Pennsylvania company that sells about 300,000 gallons a week, began promoting its milk as free of artificial hormones this summer after requiring its 80 supplier farms to stop using rBST. 

It has fired back at the state decision with full-page newspaper ads and a lobbying campaign to undo the new rule. It is also urging customers to protest. 

"We just think the consumers are more keenly aware in today's world about where their food comes from and how their food is manufactured or handled," said Rutter's president, Todd Rutter. "They like this type of data." 

Rutter's sells its milk at the state's minimum price, but a national spot check of prices by the American Farm Bureau last month found "rBST-free" milk typically costs about 25 percent more. 

An announcement earlier this year by the Publix Super Markets chain that its private-label milk would be "rBST-free" spurred milk bottlers throughout the Southeast to follow suit, said Amber DuMont with the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative. 

All milk is "safe and wholesome regardless," she said, although consumers are increasingly demanding artificial hormone-free milk. 

"Why would a consumer choose to purchase organic products vs. conventionally treated products? Because they have an interest in how that product was produced," she said. 

Organic labeling, Wolff said, involves a certification process that includes surprise audits, so the department does not currently intend to interfere with it. 

State regulators also are looking at labeling claims on other dairy products, considering action on improperly labeled eggs and poultry, and keeping an eye out for other products that state or infer a "we're safe, they're not" claim. 

The milk labeling crackdown followed a unanimous determination by Wolff's 22-member Food Labeling Advisory Committee that significant problems with food labels confused consumers. The committee included consumer advocates, food marketers, restaurateurs, veterinarians, the dairy industry and several state agencies. 

Wolff, whose family dairy business has used Posilac in the past, said he had no contact with Monsanto and the company had no input in the decision.

G. Patrick Bowling, P.G.
PA Department of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Watershed Management
P.O. Box 8555
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8555
phone: 717-772-4048
fax: 717-787-9549
e-mail: gbowling at state.pa.us

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