Public Outcry Keeps Hormone Milk Labels in Pennsylvania
[Rachel's Introduction: In Rachel's #933 we reported that Monsanto had forced Pennsylvania state government to ban labels saying milk came from cows free of Monsanto's artificial growth hormone, rBGH. That ban caused such a public uproar that Pennsylvania has now reversed itself, reports Jane Akre, herself a hero in the fight against Monsanto's corrupting influence.]
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By Jane Akre
[Rachel's introduction: In Rachel's #933 we reported that Monsanto had forced Pennsylvania state government to ban labels saying milk came from cows free of Monsanto's artificial growth hormone, rBGH. That ban caused such a public uproar that Pennsylvania has now reversed itself, reports Jane Akre, herself a hero in the fight against Monsanto's corrupting influence.]

By Jane Akre

At a time when consumers can look at labels to find whether their food has less salt, is Kosher or trans-fat-free, the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department thought, when it came to labels on dairy products, less was more.

In October, Pennsylvania became the first state to ban the practice of labeling milk as free from Monsanto's artificial growth hormone rBST also known as rbGH (synthetic or recombinant bovine growth hormone).

The labels were too confusing since milk already has naturally occurring hormones and it might be difficult to verify whether "coming from cows not treated with rBST" was actually true according to the state agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff who issued notice of the ban.

But on the eve of the February 1 deadline for label changes, a bombardment of consumer emails, letters and calls into Governor Edward Rendell's office convinced him to intervene and reverse the labeling prohibition.

In a statement Thursday, the governor said, "The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced."

Michael Hansen, Ph.D, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, one of the groups involved announced, "This is a victory for free speech, free markets, sustainable farming, and the consumer's right to know. Consumers increasingly want to know more about how their food is produced, and particularly whether it is produced in natural and sustainable manner."

Rick North of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility tells IB News, "Make no mistake -- with thousands of messages of protest, plus the sign-on letter of over 60 organizations protesting the ban, and, of course, the threat of a lawsuit, this caught them completely by surprise, they had no idea this would generate a very significant consumer response."

Litigation could have involved charges of infringement on commercial free speech.

Why target Pennsylvania farmers? "We were almost rbst free before the labeling ban," Brian Snyder tells IB News about dairy industry in his state, "and the numbers were dwindling."

Snyder is the executive director of a organized group of 4,000, half of whom are dairy farmers called Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).

While the average dairy farm in Pennsylvania is 67 cows, the trend nationally has been toward larger corporate mega-farms that milk thousands of cows in a day.

The difference is a philosophical one -- local, seasonally grown food without added chemicals and hormones. "Small farms are an impediment to the advancement of the industry," Snyder says.

"If you can't put on labels, it puts small farmers out of business."

Consumers might be wondering why the push away from labels when the national trend is to give more information.

Beginning this year shoppers will find it easier to make selections of food based on upgraded nutrition labels called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI).

Rick North of PSR says, "This isn't about protecting consumers. This is about protecting Monsanto's dwindling profits."

While Monsanto won't release sales figures, it once claimed one-third of the nation's dairy cows were injected with the drug hormone commercially called Posilac.

That number is now estimated to be closer to 17 percent according to Consumers Union.

Nationwide consumers are rejecting dairy from cows injected with artificial growth hormones.

DATAMONITOR, which tracks supermarket sales, has reported that "growth in organic milk is largely driven by continued use of hormones such as rbGH and antibiotics in the conventional dairy industry."

Organic dairy products, which don't allow rbGH, have soared to double digit profits. That in turn has grocers such as Kroger, Publix, Safeway and soon Wal-Mart following the money trail hoping to capture some of the market that Organic Valley and Horizon have taken away.

By mid-year Kraft will offer an rBGH/rBST-free cheese to offer to consumers as a "premium brand."

The largest U.S. Dairy company, Dean Foods Co., now offers a line of artificial hormone free products and last year Starbucks Corp. banned the use of rBST/rbGH from its nearly 6,793 company owned stores. Chipolte Mexican Grille Inc., a McDonald's spin-off has also banned rBSt/rbGH.

rbGH was declared safe and approved by the FDA for use by the nation's dairy farmers in late 1993 to produce more milk. The hormone is replicated by bacteria and is genetically engineered in a lab to mimic a cows natural growth hormone. Monsanto had pinned big hopes on taking the drug international.

But rbGH has always been controversial. At the time of approval, critics claimed and Monsanto's own research affirmed, that milk from treated cows contained higher levels of a spin-off hormone IGF-1, which has been linked to prostate and breast cancer.

Monsanto insists the milk from treated cows is no different than untreated milk.

During an October analysts' conference, Chief Financial Officer Terrell Crews told Chicago Business the company has seen declines in Posilac sales because "we've seen some pressure in the dairy business on that product."

Rick North of PSR believes Monsanto is behind the push in Pennsylvania and has taken the effort to overturn labels to Ohio, which is scheduled to make a decision this month.

Washington and Missouri had also been considering label prohibitions. Recently New Jersey had considered taking a similar action but opted against it.

Snyder admits there are lots of false labels that confront consumers everyday. "Farm fresh" when it's been transported from Chile, 'natural" when the food is highly processed.

"Certainly problems with labels are rampant, but in this case they picked on one certain issue and blew it out of proportion. They were doing this to preserve a market for the maker of rBST."

The FDA announced this week that it had approved the milk and meat of cloned animals for human consumption. Labels won't be needed the agency says. Snyder says the timing is curious. "To my mind a lot of the battle is not rbST but a fight over clone-free labels they're preparing for because that's going to be the bigger one."

As it stands for now, farmers in Pennsylvania who don't use rbGH/rBST can continue labels that say their milk is "coming from cows not treated with rBST."

What they can't say is "No Hormones" because with natural hormones present, technically that isn't accurate.

Also the labels must include an FDA suggested disclaimer stating that, "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows."

For dairy farmers who believe in local, regional and sustainable agriculture, Snyder says the ruling allows them to continue offering something the public wants.

"We have a couple thousand farmers in our membership and it just means everything to them that they can communicate to their customers about how they produce the foods they're selling. It reaffirms a fundamental right that we can continue to put high quality products on the market and support farming methods they want to see." #

Find this article at: milk-labels-in-pa.aspx (c) 2008

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