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Ohio frees up 'free from' milk hormone claims

By Shane Starling , 02-Apr-2008

Ohio's ongoing regulatory debate about how best to label milk derived from cows treated with growth hormones has taken another turn with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) revising a rule that restricted 'free from' claims.

The ODA's revision, which reduces the size of an on-label FDA-mandated disclaimer, came after a March 12 public meeting in which industry, processors and consumers expressed concern about the mooted rules that control the manner in which milk derived from hormone-free cows can be marketed. The ODA says the regulations are intended to level the playing field between the two milk sources but hormone-using processors are opposed in principle to such labeling because they assert it unfairly implies milk derived from hormone-treated cows is compositionally different to milk sourced from hormone-free cows when it is not, thus misleading the public. For this reason, federal law dictates that products labeled hormone-free must carry a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disclaimer that states: "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from [the growth hormone] rbST-supplemented and non-rbST supplemented cows". Claims and disclaimers The ODA revision retains the FDA disclaimer but allows it to be half the size of the 'free from growth hormones' claim. Processors have been granted 120 days to comply. The Washington DC-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) said while the revision was a step in the right direction it did not "fully address the concerns raised by dairy processors and consumers." "These changes are a step in the right direction, but they still inhibit dairy processors from conveying information about the use of artificial hormones that consumers want to know," said Jerry Slominski, IDFA senior vice president. The Ohio Dairy Producers Association recently went even further calling for all 'free from growth hormone' statements to be banned. Other concerns There are also concerns about how the law will affect products coming in and out of the state. "Ohio's proposed rule continues to be more restrictive than established federal guidelines," said Slominski. "This will ultimately disrupt interstate commerce and impede processors from marketing products in-state and nationally." The IDFA said it was campaigning against similar measures being considered in Missouri, Kansas, Utah and Pennsylvania and other states. Some fear an unmanageable state-by-state system will emerge. Groups opposed to the ruling include the Massachusetts-based Organic Trade Association (OTA) which is concerned it will threaten "truthful organic labeling". RbST is an artificial growth hormone that is administered to cows by injection in order to increase milk production. The ODA has scheduled a hearing on the revised rule for April 8, and the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review will review it during an April 21 hearing.

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