At a public hearing hosted yesterday by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), several organizations presented evidence highlighting the negative effects of a mooted rule change that would prohibit or restrict claims citing 'free from hormone-treated cows'. Opposition The Washington DC-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) is the most vehement opponent, stating labeling restrictions will deny consumers truthful product information and lead to a logistical nightmare with individual states having their own legislative set-up. The states of Missouri, Kansas, Utah and Pennsylvania are considering similar changes. IDFA said the rule changes would do little to revive the flagging market for milk derived from cows treated with growth hormones and noted Wal-Mart and Kroger's had decided not to sell milk from hormone-treated cows. "The only apparent supporters of the labeling restrictions appear to be a few dairy farmers who feel threatened that they are losing the demand for milk from cows treated with artificial hormones," the IDFA said in its submission to the hearing. "As such, the new rule's primary goal appears to be to address dairy farmer income. Imposing labeling restrictions upon dairy processors and unnecessarily limiting their ability to market products is simply not the way to address that issue and may in fact only serve to decrease demand for milk and milk products." Others to oppose the rule changes include the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Organic Trade Association and the Midwest Dairy Foods Association. The Massachusetts-based OTA said: "Any efforts that restrict organic farmers and producers from truthfully communicating to consumers and conflict with the FDA guidance and OFPA infringe on interstate commerce, consumers' right to know, and free speech." Support One group in favor of the proposed changes was the Ohio Dairy Producers Association (ODPA), which represents hundreds of Ohio's dairy farmers and called the revisions "progressive". "Ohio's dairy farmers are proud their state has taken the lead in this matter, offering a policy that not only deals with [growth hormones] within FDA guidelines, but also addresses misleading claims like hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and pesticide-free," it said. "ODPA supports the variety of choices offered to consumers in the marketplace, as long as marketers represent those choices accurately." The ODPA said only USDA National Organic Program claims should be permitted and that "size, placement, and wording of these claims should not mislead consumers into believing one type of milk is better than the other." Disclaimers Currently, dairy processors in all 50 US states can use such marketing messages but must include a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-authorized disclaimer that states: "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from [the growth hormone] rbST-supplemented and non-rbST supplemented cows". Much of the current debate centers around the manner in which this disclaimer should appear on products: whether it should lie next to 'free from' claims; how large it should be; whether it should match the style and design of the 'free-from' claim. The IDFA said it did not oppose the disclaimer but wanted Ohio's laws to be in accordance with federal law. "We have instructed our members to include such a disclaimer on their labels for over a decade. But, our members should have the freedom to market products in accordance with well-settled rules governing this controversial issue." Growth hormones like recombinant bovine somatotropin (RbST) are administered to cows to increase milk production.
Industry pressure continues to mount on Ohio legislators to curtail plans that would restrict how milk derived from cows treated with growth hormones can be marketed.